One of the most common bits of advice given to people trying to lose weight is that they should eat six small meals a day. The idea is that by eating small meals throughout the day, your metabolism will be revved up and you’ll be in fat burning mode.
So, is there any validity to this theory?
Not really. It’s something that was born off the bodybuilding industry where men who were trying to bulk up needed to give their body protein every few hours to encourage muscle growth.
Weight loss is all about caloric intake. All you need to do is burn more calories than you consume. Ideally, you need to be at a caloric deficit of about 500 to 600 calories daily. If you do this, you can expect to see about 1 pound of weight loss a week.
It doesn’t matter whether you get all your calories for the day in one meal, or you split it up into six meals. In fact, studies are showing that having one big meal is more effective for losing weight than six small meals.
Even 3 meals a day within an 8-hour eating window is better than 6 small meals spread throughout the day in a 12-hour eating window. The reason for this is that your body burns more fat when you’re in a fasted state.
If you keep eating small meals throughout the day, there’s always going to be insulin in your blood and that prevents the body from burning fat. The goal here is to be in a fasted state for as long as possible, and yet get all your calories for the day so that you’re not starving yourself.
That makes intermittent fasting ideal for weight loss. The smaller your eating window the better. If your daily calorie requirement for fat loss is 2000 calories, consuming it within an 8-hour window is good, but doing it within a 5-hour window is even better. Your body will be in a fasted state longer and will have more time to burn the fat stores.
You won’t be starving yourself in an unhealthy manner because you’re still getting all your calorie needs. Doing it this way is more convenient and more rewarding.
You won’t need to pack six small meals or keep running to eat every 2 hours like a hamster. You’ll feel more sated from larger meals instead of constantly thinking about food. Your digestive system will also have more rest, which will result in you having more energy and less inflammation.
Try it for yourself
At the end of the day, the advice you see on fitness websites, books and even this article are all general guidelines. Individuals vary. You will need to test and see what works for you.
If you prefer six small meals, that’s fine too. As long as you’re at a caloric deficit, you will lose weight. If you prefer 2 or 3 large meals, you can go for that too as long as you’re at a caloric deficit. No matter which way you go, the caloric deficit factor remains a constant.
It’s not a short-term diet. It’s a long-term lifestyle change. So, choose wisely and do what works for you.