When it comes to diet and health, especially losing weight, most of the focus has been on what you eat and how much you’re eating. While eating fewer calories than you’re taking in is key to weight loss, another important factor is how you eat – such as how many times you eat a day.
In recent years, much attention has been put on meal patterns. While some diets suggest that the key to losing weight is to only eat one meal a day, other popular diets suggest people should eat up to six small meals a day. Many of us have also been brought up to eat three meals per day – so which is best?
Many diet plans also follow a three-square-meals eating pattern. Having such a rigid approach may leave people feeling hungry between meals. This can lead to people snacking between meals, potentially overeating in the process.
But while snacking between meals was long seen as a way to stave off hunger, some early studies showed that eating more meals a day was linked with lower bodyweight. Since then, research has looked at a variety of different eating patterns, ranging from “nibbling” (up to 17 small meals per day) to “gorging” (two to three meals a day).
There is a popular belief that nibbling increases your metabolism, but this is not the case. There is evidence from one study that nibbling causes a less pronounced insulin spike after mealtimes compared to gorging. This indicates better blood-sugar control, which may be indirectly linked to managing weight better by storing less fat. But pending more research, nibbling may not actually burn more calories than gorging.
Subsequent studies which looked at the effect of eating between two and four meals per day have failed to show whether nibbling or gorging is more beneficial to weight loss. Some studies show that eating more frequently helps with weight loss, but this can also increase hunger and impair your ability to clear fat from the blood – an important factor in cardiovascular disease risk.