What’s Best for Weight Loss: 3 Meals per Day or 5-6 Smaller Meals per Day?

There have been claims made on both sides:  “To lose weight, it’s better to eat 3 square meals a day and avoid snacking” or “Eating 5-6 small meals throughout the day facilitates weight loss.”

Which is true?

For many people, three meals a day is a way of life, the way it’s always been.  But some research promises that eating smaller meals more often helps regulate blood sugar, control binge eating tendencies, and facilitate weight loss.  The fact is, it depends on the person and there is no right or wrong answer.

Weight loss is all about “energy balance,” or calories consumed vs calories burned.  You consume calories by eating food.  You burn calories by 3 methods:  being alive (your basal metabolic rate), digesting food (minimal), and exercise (you have most control over this variable).

  • If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.  
  • If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight.  

(It really is that simple, unless you have a hormone imbalance which inhibits weight loss by the traditional methods.)

The key to eating only three meals per day is to keep them portion-controlled.  If you’re on a 3-meal-a-day plan and you get hungry and resist the urge for a snack, it would be very easy to OVER-eat at the next meal.  In that case, perhaps eating smaller meals throughout the day would be a better option.  But beware of the potential danger in eating smaller meals throughout the day:  they could easily become “bigger than small” meals which would increase total calories overall.

Ultimately when meal-planning, the bottom line is that it really doesn’t matter how many meals you eat per day, as long as you control the total caloric intake.  It is important to know how many calories you need to eat per day to lose weight, and what the calorie count is of the foods you’re eating.  There are lots of online programs that will quickly calculate this for you.  Beware tho, the “starvation” diet won’t work and is not safe.  Women should never eat fewer than 1200 calories per day, and men never fewer than 1400 calories per day.  Doing so tells your body you’re starving and weight loss will be hindered as your body attempts to conserve all resources.

Whether you’re a 3-square-meal-a-day-er or a snacker, here are some of my favorite low-calorie go-to foods which can be enjoyed as part of a meal or a snack!

  • Mini baby bel cheese + 1/2 cup grapes = 100 calories
  • 1 cup raspberries = 65 calories
  • Banana with 1.5 tbsp peanut butter = 250 calories
  • Hard boiled egg = 70 calories
  • 2 clementines = 70 calories
  • 1/4 cup dry roasted almonds = 140 calories
  • Coco pop multigrain cake with laughing cow spreadable cheese wedge = 50 calories

Bon appetit!

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