Weight Loss Nutrition – 3 Square Meals vs 6 Small Meals a Day

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You may have heard or read about the idea that eating six or more small meals each day instead of three larger meals can help stimulate your metabolism, reduce hunger, and help you lose weight. Some people seem to be able to eat anything and never gain a pound. You, on the other hand, may have to count every calorie you put into your body. Simply peering at a decadent chocolate cake makes you gain 2 pounds. If you often find yourself hungry between meals, maybe six smaller meals throughout the day can help you reduce your hunger and lose weight.

There are currently no scientific studies to support the claim that eating small, frequent meals will boost your metabolism or help you lose weight. To lose weight, you must burn more calories than you eat. You shouldn’t sacrifice nutrition or suffer hunger pangs to lose weight though. Spreading your total number of calories over an 8-hour day may help you feel less hungry, which can help you stay on your diet and lose weight. The number of calories your body needs for energy depends on a number of factors, including your age, gender, and general physical fitness. The average adult requires between 1,500 and 2,000 calories per day. Less active people need fewer calories, while very active adults need more. Plan your meals, whether you eat 3 meals or 6 meals, to meet your nutrition and calorie requirements.

The average American eats three meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Eating snacks between meals can help curb your appetite and prevent drops in blood sugar during the day. Should you decide to spread your meals over the entire day, be careful not to increase your caloric intake. You should maintain the maximum number of calories you eat each day, but spread them out over the day in smaller meals and snacks. Hunger can be your worst enemy if you are on a diet. Choose nutrient dense foods that are high in protein instead of empty calorie snacks, such as candy or chips. If you decide to try eating smaller, more frequent meals, you will have to do some planning to avoid overeating which will defeat your weight loss plan.

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Whole grains are a good way to get protein, fiber, nutrients, and feel fuller longer. Start your day with whole grains, such as oats and whole wheat toast. Add some fresh blueberries to your oats for extra nutrition without sacrificing your calorie limit. You will feel fuller longer after eating a healthy breakfast of whole grains and fruit. Keep your pre-lunch snack light. Apple slices and natural peanut butter will satisfy your hunger while feeding your need for vitamins and protein. Eat a healthy salad with low-fat dressing for lunch. Slice up some skinless, white meat chicken and sprinkle it on top of your salad for your protein needs. Prepare little cubes of your favorite low-fat cheese with some seedless grapes and whole grain, baked crackers for your after-lunch snack. Choose lean beef, chicken or fish for dinner with steamed vegetables, or some beans or wild rice. Plan to eat your last small meal no sooner than 2 hours before bedtime. Fresh fruit, such as sliced peaches or strawberries, or fruit sorbet, is a good choice for a light, late evening meal. The worst thing you can do is to satisfy your hunger with fast food. Avoid greasy, high fat foods, such as French fries, burritos, and burgers. Toss the cookies and ice cream out or give it away. Replace those high calorie diet busting snacks and foods with dried fruits, nuts, natural peanut butter, and baked snack crackers.

Plan your meals in advance. Buy fresh whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes. Prepare the food you plan to eat the next day and place them in sealed containers or food storage bags. Write the number of calories for each meal directly on the container. You can find calorie information about foods on the packaging or by visiting reliable sources on the Internet. Make sure that each container holds no more than one serving of each food. Only take your morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack to work. When you get home after work, avoid sitting in front of the television with a bowl of snacks like crackers and cheese or popcorn. It is very easy to overeat when you are watching television. You aren’t paying attention to what you are putting in your mouth.

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Don’t forget about your beverages. Your choices in drinks can add unnecessary empty calories to your diet and undo all of your hard work. Foods and drinks with empty calories are those that are sugary, high in calories, but contain few or no nutrients. Sodas, milkshakes, sweet tea, and lattes made with cream can really pile on the calories. Drink water instead of sodas. Choose low-fat vitamin enriched milk or plain coffee or coffee with low-fat creamer or a sweetener that is not processed with white sugar, such as honey. Sports drinks can help replenish minerals and balance your electrolytes without adding additional calories.

Your overall diet and controlling calories are only part of the weight loss equation. You have to get moving if you are going to burn more calories than you eat. The surest way to lose weight and keep it off is to combine diet with exercise. Even if you work in an office all day and take the train or drive to work, there are ways you can exercise to burn calories. Start by joining your local gym. There are trained professionals there who can help you develop a fitness plan to lose weight and get fit. If the gym is not for you, there are other ways to exercise. Take the stairs instead of the elevator whenever possible. Park your car two or three blocks from your office and walk. Join a walking club. Use the company gym for the first half of your lunch hour if your office building has one. Energize your body and burn calories after your last meal of the day by walking for 30 minutes or jumping rope in your living room. By taking these steps described above, you will be well on your way to a fitter, slimmer physique!

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About Author

Robin Reichert

I'm an AFPA certified personal trainer, AFPA certified nutrition consultant, NASM certified youth exercise specialist, online fitness coach and freelance writer specializing in health and fitness. I hold a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from the University of San Francisco and a Master of Science in natural health. I'm also an active member of the world's largest association for fitness and wellness professionals. See my profile page for more information!

2 Comments

  1. Do you really need to eat 6 small meals per day? Does it really boost your metabolism? This concept has been disproven many times. The truth is that every time you eat, some of the calories contained in the food gets converted into energy. To put it simply, your body burns some energy to digest the food and assimilate its ingredients. This is called the thermic effect of food (TEF). Small meals cause a small thermic effect and large meals cause a larger thermic effect. So, if you eat 6 small meals throughout the day, you will experience 6 increases in your metabolism, but they will be smaller. If you eat 3 larger meals, you will experience only 3 increases in your metabolism during the day, but they will be larger. The end result is the same.

    • shapefit

      Hi Kate – The end calorie result is the same between eating 5 smaller meals versus 3 larger ones per day, but there are several other benefits to eating multiple smaller meals which include lower glycemic load and most importantly, hunger control. By eating 5 smaller meals, a person can “graze” throughout the day which is a huge benefit for people who like to have something in their stomach every 2-3 hours. This results in more satiety, less overeating and overall calorie control for individuals who like consuming something several times during the day versus opting for 3 larger meals spaced 5-6 hours (or even longer) throughout the day.

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