How many meals should we eat a day?
by Simone do Carmo
in Blogs

This is probably one of the most common questions I get asked. And I’m sorry to say that the answer isn’t that simple - it really depends on the individual and their context.

Let’s start with the idea of eating six small meals a day. This strategy is thought to increase your metabolic rate (the number of calories you burn within a given time frame) due to the thermic effect of food resulting from digestion. In theory, this should translate into a greater weight loss. But, overall, studies have shown that there is actually no difference between eating six meals a day and three meals a day in terms of weight loss. 

Another idea is that eating five to six smaller meals a day will help balance sugar levels. Some evidence suggests that fewer meals can cause larger blood sugar spikes but lead to lower blood sugar levels overall, which may be better for managing conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Other evidence indicates that more frequent and smaller meals are actually better for people with type 2 diabetes, as this may improve insulin function. It becomes more efficient because you wouldn’t need as much insulin at any one time and spikes would be smaller. The problem is that many people will ignore the ‘smaller’ part, only hear the ‘more frequent’ part, and end up overeating.

With regard to appetite control, the evidence is conflicting. In some studies, eating smaller meals more frequently seems to positively affect appetite control; i.e. less hunger and a greater sense of ‘fullness’, while other studies conclude the opposite, with fewer meals being the better option for appetite control.

As you can see, there is no clear-cut answer. If I had to give some general advice, it would simply be to eat in a way that feels good for you. Whether that means eating five to six meals a day, or only two, doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things, as long as you feel like you’re supporting your metabolism, and not braving it out till the next meal, or eating when you don’t feel like eating. What really matters is both the quantity and quality of what you’re eating. As long as you’re eating adequate amounts of food that is nutritious for your body, you’re on the right path.

What I would say to someone who is struggling with their hunger and energy levels, is to have three main meals and distribute your food intake more evenly throughout the day. This means having similar amounts of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. If needed, some healthy snacks can be added throughout the day. This is a good starting point, and it normally helps people regain a healthy eating pattern.

Also, there is no evidence that skipping breakfast will help ‘kick-start’ your metabolism or make you lose more weight. In fact, our blood sugar control is actually better in the morning, so if you had to eat a larger meal, I would recommend eating a big breakfast! And then eating a bit less for lunch and dinner. But if you’re a healthy person who doesn’t really struggle with blood sugar regulation and energy levels, and you’re really not hungry in the morning, then it isn’t harmful to skip breakfast. In this case, just make sure you eat mindfully throughout the day, since those who skip breakfast tend to be less health-conscious and will usually grab some biscuits mid-morning at work to keep hunger pangs at bay.