How often should I eat? Is eating 3 meals a day or 6 smaller ones better if I want to lose weight? These are questions our founder and nutritional therapist, Chef V has been asked dozens of times over the years. Here, she gives you the scoop on ideal meal frequency….
There’s so much conflicting advice out there that I’m actually reluctant to give you an answer to the question, “How often should I eat?”.
After all, everybody is biochemically unique. A certain diet might work wonders for one person while making another person gain weight.
In other words, the answer to the question, “How often should I eat?” might not be the same for everyone.
But you’re not looking for a cop out to this answer, are you? You need a definitive answer to “how often should I eat for sustained weight loss and good energy?”
All I can do is give you my answer based on the research I’ve read. And perhaps sprinkle in my intuition for good measure.
So here’s what I know about this great mystery of nutrition….
SIBO: Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth
For starters, almost everybody knows that you have bacteria in the gut.
But relatively few people know where exactly that bacteria (both good and bad) should reside.
The answer: in the large intestine, not the small intestine.
What does this fun fact about gut health have to do with weight loss and meal frequency?
You see, when you eat several times per day, you prevent your small intestine’s Migrating Motor Complex (MMC) to sweep away bacteria down into the large intestine.
Why is this important? Again, most of your gut bacteria belongs in the large intestine so your digestive system can break down the food. If the bacteria in your gut starts eating the food you ate in the small intestine, you won’t absorb nutrients well.
And when you don’t absorb nutrients well, you can have digestive troubles like gas and bloating. And in more serious cases, autoimmune diseases like Crohn’s Disease, Irritable Bowel Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
So, theoretically, if you eat every couple hours, you’re not giving your digestive system the chance to move the bacteria down into the large intestine. Some people even develop what’s called SIBO, or Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth. SIBO can lead to digestive disturbances including chronic abdominal distention.
Now that doesn’t mean that if you’re a nibbler and eat 5-6 small meals per day that’s a guarantee you will have SIBO. But it certainly is food for thought.
How often should I eat score: 1 point for eating fewer times
Next, let’s consider what the research has to say about the question, “How often should I eat if I want to lose weight?”
One study in the journal Obesity compared the effect of consuming three vs. six meals per day on fat burning and hunger. The result: increasing meal frequency from three to six per day has no significant effect on fat burning. (source)
In this study, not only did increasing the number of meals have no impact on fat burning, the researchers also concluded that eating more often may increase hunger and the desire to eat.
How often should I eat score: 2-0 fewer meals
Perhaps the scientific hammer blow to nibbling comes from a review of 15 studies on this subject, published in the British Journal of Nutrition.
The researchers conclude, “With the exception of a single study, there is no evidence that weight loss is altered by meal frequency. Any effects of meal pattern on the regulation of body weight are likely to be mediated through effects on the food intake side of the energy balance equation.”
In other words, if you want to lose weight, it doesn’t matter how frequently you eat. Ultimately, what matters most is how many calories you burn (while you’re resting and exercising, combined) versus calories consumed. And without doubt, the quality of the calories matters greatly as well. (source)
How often should I eat score: 3-0 fewer meals
Game over? Having just breakfast, lunch & dinner’s the winner?
If you feel better nibbling through the day and are able to stay at a weight you’re comfortable with then by all means keep eating frequent small meals!
Just make sure you’re eating nutritiously dense foods with every meal, especially some of the whole green leafy veggies in our Green Drinks. Moreover, if you must snack, eat natural fats like nuts, seeds (and nut or seed butters), fruit, 100% grass-fed or wild jerky, or full-fat organic or raw dairy, to name a few healthy snacks. These smart fats will help banish cravings.
How often should I eat? Final score: tied
Yeah, I know … I told you I wouldn’t cop out with an easy answer to “How often should I eat?” But if you listen to your body, eat mostly plant foods and keep your sugar intake low and stay active, I don’t really think it matters how often you eat.
Personally, I like to start off each day with 16 oz. of Green Drink. I don’t eat anything else for breakfast. Although my Green Drink hardly contains any dietary fat, it keeps me full for at least a few hours in the morning. Our Green Drinks are 100% certified organic. It’s the easiest way to get your daily mega dose of disease-fighting antioxidants. And we deliver it to your home! So no mess or clean up or time spent shopping and chopping.
And if you’re trying to lose weight, making a 16 oz. Green Drink part of your daily routine will help detoxify your liver. When your liver is working more efficiently, you can lose weight more easily.
However, if you discover that you do better with more natural healthy fat in the morning, here’s what you can do. Simply pour a Green Drink into a blender. Add a tablespoon of a healthy fat like coconut oil. In addition, you can add a scoop of hemp protein powder and a handful or two of organic berries. And don’t forget to add our super pure organic almond milk, which contains just almonds and water. Yum!
How often should I eat to curb cravings?
If you’re still wondering, “How often should I eat?” then I suggest keeping a food journal. A food journal can provide clues into what causes cravings. For example, let’s say you have a turkey sandwich for lunch. You would record every detail of your meal in a food journal. From the type of bread, the condiment, how much turkey (1 slice or 2), and whatever sides you have with the sandwich (potato salad, chips). Make sure to also record the time you eat the sandwich.
Notice that within a couple hours after eating the sandwich that you’re hungry? Then you’re in jeopardy of giving into cravings.
Why you still feel hungry after eating that turkey sandwich for lunch
What causes cravings? Two things. First, not eating enough nutrient-dense foods at a meal. That turkey sandwich might not contain much sugar. And it may even contain a couple veggies like some baby spinach leaves and a tomato slice. However, it’s not full of fiber like a big salad. Or a serving or two of quinoa or wild rice with broccoli. The sandwich might seem healthy because it’s not junk food and low in sugar. But it won’t keep you full like my pumpkin curry recipe. And a turkey sandwich doesn’t have enough veggies.
So if you were to have a turkey sandwich for lunch make it nutritiously dense by loading it with green leafy veggies. Add some sprouts. And eat bread that is high fiber or 100% rye flour.
The second reason that turkey sandwich or other meal didn’t fill you up is lack of a certain macronutrient. There are three macronutrients: carbs, protein and fat. If there’s only one slice of protein and you’re still hungry, maybe you need more protein. Or maybe you need more fat. That’s why it’s important to keep a food journal so you can eventually figure out what’s best for you. In the future, look for a more detailed blog post on keeping a food journal.
How Often Should I Eat: conclusion
The reason I recommend keeping a food journal is that it will definitely answer for you the question, “How often should I eat for weight loss.” It will take time. I say give it a couple weeks of meticulous record keeping and observation. After just a couple weeks, you’ll know the best meal frequency for you.
Until then, don’t forget to get your daily dose of detoxifying green veggies. And don’t worry too much about “How often should I eat.”
To your health….