Do a Google search. You’ll likely find many answers to this question. Ask a personal trainer and the answer would be six. Ask a dietitian, you’ll get three. Seek out a professional weight loss program or popular diet book and the answer may vary.
The rationale behind six small meals a day is simple but unproven. This school of thought says our metabolism, the engine behind calorie burning, is revved up when you eat small amounts more frequently, say about every 3 hours. And, that your appetite is lower and energy higher with this plan. There’s some truth to this – eating more often reduces hunger. Depending on your food choices, your energy levels will be more constant. With a variety of colorful foods, you’ll avoid that deep energy drop at 3pm that sends you in search of a Twinkie and Coke. A downside to this plan is that eating more often can sometimes mean overeating more often – leading to weight gain. To avoid this, be sure your small meals are thoroughly planned out and include a variety of foods. Boost in metabolism? Exercise is the only mechanism that can increase your metabolic rate.
That said, what’s the bonus of eating 3 meals a day? A positive note is that you’ll be sure to get all the nutrients you need in a larger meal. For instance, if your plate is loaded with green, red, yellow, orange and purple foods, like vegetables in a stir-fry or salad, and paired with a portion of legumes, whole grain, and, if not vegetarian, lean meat and eggs, you’re getting all the protein, carbohydrate and fat you need to keep going another 4-5 hours. In other words, fuel. For breakfast, oatmeal, dried fruit and sliced banana with 1-2 tablespoons hemp seed hearts or a side of hardboiled egg is sure to keep hunger at bay, and energy high until your next meal.
The bottom line? The number of meals you eat each day depends on you. Simply put, it’s up to you to experiment with your hunger and fullness to see what makes the most sense to your body. Combining healthy colorful choices into 2, 3, 5 or 6 meals a day is up to you. Just make sure that at the end of the day, you’ve chosen a balance of them all.
Adapted from today’s tip at DASH for Health, an online nutrition education program, written by moi!