small meals or 3 square

There have been claims and research 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.”

So which is best? Small meals or 3 square?

“Best”, when it comes to nutrition …. well it’s hard to distill a single best for all people because there are so many variables. We all have different bodies, needs, preferences and lifestyles.

For many people, three meals a day is a way of life, the way it’s always been. But some research promises that eating more frequent small meals more often helps regulate blood sugar, control binge eating tendencies, and facilitates weight loss. The fact is, it depends on the person and there is no right or wrong answer! Sorry, not sorry. 🙂

Balanced Food Choices Are Heart Healthy

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.
Portion Control Rules Them All

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. You may also feel yourself getting lethargic in between meals due to low blood sugar and low energy levels. In that case, perhaps eating small meals throughout the day would be a better option OR choosing healthy portion controlled snacks between your 3 square meals. But beware of the potential danger in eating small meals or snacks throughout the day: they could easily become “bigger than small” meals which would increase your total calories in a day.

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 (I’ve used myfitnesspal – MFP – and have been very happy with it). Beware tho, the “starvation” diet won’t work and is not safe. Eating too few calories tells your body you’re starving and weight loss will be hindered as your body attempts to conserve all resources. MFP guidelines are really helpful but you should always verify your plan with your health care provider.

Counting Calories Note

I’m going to say something here that seems a little contrary to what I’ve written above, but the best thing you can do for yourself is to use calorie counting, but only for a limited period of time. You want to eventually ‘intuitively’ understand what types of foods you eat and their caloric (and nutritional) value. And you will learn this after using an app like MFP for a little while. Calorie counting is not a long-term lifestyle plan because it’s not sustainable (and shouldn’t be necessary).

Calorie burning and nutrition is not an exact science due to how many variables there are across people. We have different sleep schedules, different average activity levels, different stresses and strains in our days. It’s best to get rule of thumb estimates from apps like myfitnesspal, from nutrition labels or from our healthcare providers to help us in our journey to a healthier lifestyle. We don’t want to treat this is a math problem that can be solved, because it can be slightly more complicated than that.

Your best bet is to work on eating healthy meals and living a healthy lifestyle that is full of activity, enjoyment, and good (healthy) food. We want to develop sustainable habits and not one where we are measuring out every little thing we eat.

Shouldn’t all food choices be this simple?
Some Healthy Food Choices!

Whether you’re a 3-square-meal-a-day-er or a small meal lover, 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 bell cheese + 1/2 cup grapes = 100 calories (I love these!)
  • 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

And keep in mind (as I blogged about before), Not All Calories Are Created Equal, so make healthy choices wherever you can!

What is your favorite plate size/eating rhythms? Let me know in the comments!

Bon appetit!

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