Meal Frequency - How Often Should I Eat?

- POSTED ON: Mar 29, 2011

The Frequency of Eating is one of the main issues in dieting, and many people disagree on that subject.

One viewpoint commonly held is that frequent small meals are better for weight-loss and for one's body in general than less frequent larger meals. 

The basic rationale for this is that smaller meals tend to raise metabolism because of the continual digestion process, and one is less likely to overeat
because hunger will never become intense.

Call me cynical, but I suspect that the recent popularity of this viewpoint may have something to do with food marketing.

Another commonly held viewpoint is that three medium sized meals are betterfor weight-loss and for one's body in general.

There are several common rationales given for this viewpoint.  

One of them is that it has been the Traditional "American" way for the past hundred years or so.

Another is that avoiding all snacks between three meals instills Habits of Moderation, and after the mind and the body adjusts to this plan, weight-loss and maintenance of weight-loss becomes easier due to the automatic no snacking habit.

Proponents of the Leptin Diet say that limiting eating to three meals a day, spaced 5 or 6 hours apart, helps the body's hormone Leptin to function better and therefore assists in weight-loss and maintenance of weight-loss.

Intermittent Fasting proponents, such as in Eat Stop Eat, and the Fast-5 Diet recommend eating less often than three times a day. They recommend long breaks between eating...i.e. frequent periodic fasts,  Their rationale is that this process helps the body's Insulin and growth hormones to function better and therefore assists in weight-loss and maintenance of weight-loss.

Other "Experts", including proponets of Intuitive Eating, say that people should eat whenever they feel hungry and stop as soon as they feel full.

Some advocate eating only two meals daily.  Some say skip breakfast. Others say skip lunch.  Still others say skip dinner.  There are also those who support eating only snacks with no actual meals.

The issue of eating frequency is actually an indirect way to restict the AMOUNT that one eats.

If one eats three "normal" meals and also adds in high calorie snacks...they will ingest more calories than their body uses as energy and will therefore gain weight.

A person can also eat three large daily meals without snacking and still ingest more calories than their body uses as energy and will therefore gain weight.

It one eats one very large meal every day, with nothing in between, that person can also ingest more calories than their body uses as energy and will therefore gain weight.

If a person alternates occasional days of fasting with frequent days of overeating, that person will ingest more calories than their body uses as energy and will therefore gain weight.

Feelings of hunger and fullness are subjective.
A person's body (physical) and/or a person's emotions (mental) can inaccurately report those feelings. This can occur whether one has a single meal each day or whether one eats small amounts of food all day long. In most cases outside an anexoric condition, inaccurate signals of hunger and fullness will cause a person to ingest more calories than their body uses as energy and therefore gain weight.

All of these positions have merit, and they all have flaws.  SO...what is my personal position?    My own viewpoint is that all of the various suggestions are acceptable.

I think people should individually choose to eat as frequently as is desirable or comfortable for them as long as they can get that plan to work for them.  Any food plan works if it causes a person to ingest the same or less calories than their body uses as energy, and therefore causes an obese person to lose or maintain weight-loss.

I find Gary Taubes' writings about insulin's effects on the body to be interesting and valuable. However, at this current time, based on my own experience, and my observations of others, my opinion is that, even if his Theories are true, there is MORE to the issue of weight-loss and maintenance of that weight-loss than merely controlling the carbohydrate substances that one eats.

A low-carbohydrate diet might greatly help with the issues of obesity, and one MIGHT be able to eat more calories, or better regulate their body's hormonal functions by following such a plan. H
owever,  I believe that physical issues are only one part of the obesity equation. 

Even if Taubes is correct, the basic position of calories in/calories out is still valid if one wishes to reach and maintain a body size which is smaller than one's body was genetically designed to be.

Consideration of calories in/calories out is also useful when considering eating issues that go beyond a person's physical requirements.
By this, I mean eating issues which involve personal appetites, personal habits and personal character.

The picture of the apple and cheese at the heading of this article
was taken as part of my latest recipe video Six Cheese and Sides, which is located in Tidbits, under RECIPES. 



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Existing Comments:

On Mar 29, 2011 wrote:
Dr Collins your food pictures look really good. I don't know if I could ever be satisfied to eat such a small amount of food.

On Mar 29, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Thanks Jenny. I've never been one to take many photos so this picture/video thing is all new to me. I find that the body adjusts to the amount of food it is used to. If you are used to large amounts, that's what your body expects, but if you become used to small amounts, that is physically satisfying as well. That's PHYSICAL satisfaction. EMOTIONAL satisfaction is a different issue. Personally, I find myself far more satisfied emotionally when I eat small amounts of a large variety of foods.

On Mar 29, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
I tend to to be a both/and girl. I think it is both calories & carbs. I have it to be true for MY body that if I eat fewer carbs, I can eat more calories. Not infinitely more, just a few hundred more, and not necessarily as a snicker's bar. I find it baffling on low carb sites people eating mounds of nuts, tablespoons of coconut oil, or large steaks with blue cheese toppings and then wonder about their "stall" on weight loss.

On Mar 29, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Hi Karen. While I need a great deal more data, my recent low-carb experiment is indicating that I can eat somewhere up to a hundred calories more when I eat under 30 net carb to maintain my current weight. If that turned out to be the ONLY value of very-low-carb eating, it would probably not be enough of a trade-off for me to continue long-term after my current experiment is completed.

On Mar 29, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
I need to clarify: what MY body considers low carb or low calorie is NOT what someone else's body would. I tracked what my body can use both calories & carbs then I knew my "body budget" even with some variability with hormones. It took some time to discern this but it is knowledge worth knowing.

On Mar 29, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Karen, of course all of us are individuals with different calorie needs and different tolerances for carbs. I agree with you that gaining personal knowledge about what works best for our own particularbody is incredibly valuable.

On Mar 29, 2011 Karen925 wrote:
I rarely mention my cal/carb counts because I do not like the starvation mode police showing up cluck clucking about how low they are. I know that is not you at all but there might be some who read my posts that are like that. Your thoughts on starvation mode occured at a pivotal point in my weight loss success. I look forward to your upcoming posts on this topic:-)

On Mar 29, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Karen, I understand exactly what you mean. One really great thing about having my own website is that I feel free to write whatever I choose without fear of a moderator chiming in to edit or discount my personal opinion. That B.S. blanket 1200 calorie minimum imposed by many "nutritional Experts" has been detrimental to many dieters. In fact...except in the case of those with an anexoric BMI (which is UNDER 17.6..and for my height that would be under 90 lbs...25 lbs less than my current 115 lb weight), it is actually far better to go "too low" in calories than "too high". One thing about calorie counting is that no matter how accurate one tries to be, there are many reasons why it is impossible to be "exact", and almost all calorie errors are unavoidably higher, not lower. I will also be writing more details about this difficulty in the future.

On Apr 01, 2011 sad wrote:
Where do you get all those fascinating smilies? They always seem so appropriate to what you are saying

On Apr 01, 2011 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Thanks sad, I'm glad you like them. During my years of posting in various diet forums, I've been collecting and saving them, and I transferred a ton of them to my Images section here in DietHobby. When writing a long article I like to use them to break up the text and to put an emphases on specific points.

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