When it comes to changing how someone eats one of the most common questions is how many meals a day should I be eating ?
There are different views on the topic of how frequently people should be eating. Some believe that eating breakfast is how you jump start the metabolism for the day, while others believe that having six smaller meals a day keeps your metabolism from slowing down.
On the other side of the coin there are the people who skip breakfast all together, and do some form of intermittent fasting.
In this blog post I am going to discuss the myths and truths around the ideal meal frequency. What you should be taking into consider when deciding how many meals to eat on a daily basis and why calories and food quality both matter.
Is Breakfast Really That Important ?
Breakfast is really the first meal of the day no matter what time it is. You are breaking the fast from dinner and overnight.
We have been told our entire life that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and aids in losing weight by jump starting the metabolism.
There is nothing physiologically special about breakfast. It is not essential in any way for boosting metabolism, and is no different from any other meal eaten throughout the day.
There is no legitimate evidence that breakfast helps people lose weight. Those who typically skip breakfast have a higher likelihood of obesity though.
People who skip breakfast in an unplanned fashion are more likely to make poorer decisions later in the day when hunger strikes.
For those who are less health conscious, and have skipped breakfast having a pastry or a big fast food lunch to make up for breakfast is normalized.
Many folks who do skip breakfast end up overeating to compensate for the missed meal without thinking about it.
There are people who go for periods of time where they plan to avoid consuming calories,this is called intermittent fasting. There are some interesting health benefits from intermittent fasting that could make up an entire blog post.
Verdict: If you are hungry when you wake up go ahead and eat breakfast. If you are looking to lose body fat focus on protein, fat and veggies for breakfast.
If you’re not hungry skip breakfast, but make sure your other meals are healthy and you are not overeating to compensate.
More Meals Boosting Metabolism ?
We have all been told the folk tale about frequent smaller meals boosting the metabolism, this is false though.
It is one of those relics that sticks around even though it is not true. old myths die hard.
It is true that eating and digesting food does raise the metabolism. This is the thermic effect of food. The total volume of food digested at the end of the day is what matters most.
The energy expended to digest 3 big meals or 6 smaller meals of equal size will be the exact same.
Eating 6 meals of 300 calories is going have the exact same thermic effect as eating 3 meals of 600 calories. There is literally no difference in the energy expended between these two ways of eating.
For athletes looking to recover or those looking to gain muscle you will need to eat more frequently to fuel your activities and give the body a caloric surplus to use.
Verdict: Smaller more frequent meals compared to fewer larger meals creates no difference on total fat loss or the metabolic rate. At the end of the day with the metabolism what matters most is the total calories consumed.
Balancing Blood Sugar
There are people who have trouble with chronically low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). These people typically have adrenal glands that are so worn out that they can not adequately raise blood sugar when it gets low.
For these folks eating more frequent smaller meals that are macronutrient balanced is better than three larger meals
For others who do not have adrenal dysfunction and can regulate blood sugar adequately, meal frequency is less important.
People typically think of larger meals as creating larger spikes in blood sugar, compared to smaller meals creating smaller spikes in blood sugar.
What matters the most when it comes to spikes in blood sugar is the kind of foods that you are eating.
If you compare a large salad with dressing and a chicken breast to a turkey sandwich on wheat bread. Even though the salad may be larger in size the bread in the sandwich is going to cause the larger blood sugar spike.
Verdict: If you have blood sugar regulation problems eating more frequently can be helpful to avoid letting levels get too low.
When it comes to balancing blood sugar the focus should be on the quality of foods.Certain foods even in small amounts quickly spike blood sugar such as bread or pasta. Other foods in large amounts have little effect on the blood sugar levels such as a salad with lots of leafy green veggies, nuts, seeds or coconut.
Fasted Or Fed ?
intermittent fasting is strategically planning to avoid eating certain meals or during a period of time. Some people will choose to do 24 hour fasts or choose to skip breakfast daily.
Fasts usually last between 16-24 hours, and a large chunk of that time is going to be when the person is asleep ideally.
Living in our abundant society food is literally everywhere, so when someone chooses to not eat for an extended period of time they are likely to get questions and funny looks.
When looking at our eating from an evolutionary standpoint we are well adapted to handle both feast and famine. Today however we have a society of all feast and no famine.
Every religion in existence today has a form of fasting. In many cases it is viewed as a cleansing ritual which is funny because we now know that we have a cellular cleaning that happens during fasting.
This cellular house cleaning is named autophagy. During autophagy the body works on making cells function more efficiently and cleans up any waste products.
Insulin sensitivity will be increased, which means the body will more efficiently use carbohydrates due to fasting. This insulin sensitivity can also be achieved by strength training.
Verdict: Intermittent fasting has very interesting health benefits, but just like anything else in nutrition it may not work for everyone.
Intermittent fasting is a form of stress and those who are dealing with blood sugar, adrenal or sleep problems will not feel good if they attempt intermittent fasting. The key here is to experiment and see what works for you and fits your lifestyle.
At the end of the day what matters most is food quality and the total number of calories. In regards to fat loss and metabolism how many meals you choose to eat on a daily basis is up to you and makes no real difference.
Breakfast has no special metabolic effect, but can help prevent overeating and cravings.
If you are someone who has adrenal or blood sugar problems smaller more frequent meals or snacks may be helpful. Fewer meals would be a good option for folks who have digestive problems.
Some people will prefer to skip breakfast and have an intermittent fast. Finding what works for you is going to be individual.
Make sure that you are taking steps towards your goals and don’t blindly follow someone else's advice. Test and see what works best for you and helps you to reach your goals.
If you’re tired of working hard, and not getting the results you want, I can help you adopt the simple habits necessary to reach your health or fat loss goals.
These habits are based on getting you to your goal in a sustainable fashion that can be maintained. I’ll be there every step of the way to support and keep you accountable.
Get on a Strategy Call with me to Discover how to achieve your health or fat loss goals, and make them yours to keep this time around.
Whether you decide to work with me or not I can guarantee you will leave this call with more knowledge on how to achieve your goals.