How Many Meals A Day Should I Eat?
How many meals a day is ‘normal’? Ask most people and they’ll answer ‘three’. It makes sense too; that’s how most of us are brought up. ‘Three square meals a day’… Breakfast, lunch and dinner. We shape our days and lives around them.
Just because most of us do eat three meals a day, that doesn’t – necessarily – make it ‘right’. With that being the case, it begs questions such as, ‘how many meals is it healthy to eat a day?’ and ‘how many meals a day to lose weight?’
When it comes to weight loss and meal frequency, you may be surprised to learn that there’s evidence suggesting that a wide range of options may be best. Let’s explore the reasons for each of them, but before we dive in, please note that you should speak to a healthcare professional before making any major changes to your diet.
The case for just 1 meal a day
We start with a rather unorthodox approach, one which may not be hugely attractive to many people: the concept of One Meal a Day (also known as ‘OMAD’).
The idea is that you eat one large meal at a time you decide, usually at your regular dinner time. You can eat whatever you like, without worrying about the calorific value. It can be food usually looked upon as unhealthy. With only eating one meal a day, it’s very likely that you won’t exceed your recommended daily calorie intake.
Is 1 meal a day enough? Well, OMAD isn’t for everyone. Those people that struggle with controlling their blood sugar levels are advised to avoid it.1 But for others it may be worth trying if you think you can work it into your everyday life. One 2016 study links OMAD with a reduction in BMI.2
2 meals a day for weight loss
Less intimidating than eating just once a day, but still a change from the normal three a day, some people swear by eating twice a day as an effective way to lose weight.
Short-term fasting can result in ketosis, a metabolic state in which the body burns stored fat for energy when there is insufficient glucose available to do so.3
Is it healthy to eat 2 meals a day? For most people, absolutely – provided that what you eat is nutritious and that those two meals aren’t junk food.
Eating 3 meals a day to help lose weight
Is eating 3 times a day healthy? Well, it’s how most of us approach eating. It’s perfectly fine. The thing is, it’s just as healthy whether you eat two, three, four or more meals a day. So long as you can keep your overall calorie intake below your calorie expenditure, you should be able to lose weight.
Eating up to 6 meals a day
Six meals a day may sound like far too many, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. The thing is, it’s not six ‘full meals’. It follows the principle of ‘little and often’.
Even while eating at least three meals and one snack per day is normally advised by dietary guidelines, some people find that eating smaller, more frequent meals helps them lose weight more quickly.4 You may be able to better control hunger and keep your energy levels up with a six-meal regimen.
Only eat when you’re hungry
So far, we’ve been very focused on the precise number of meals. What if, however, the number was largely irrelevant? What if you just ate when you were hungry?
It can be a pretty efficient weight reduction technique, following your appetite. Eating out of boredom, anger, despair, or any other negative emotions – when you’re not actually hungry – can all lead to weight gain. To lose weight, you must learn to recognise your hunger signals and cut back on calories.
While certain studies lean towards the idea of a set number of meals per day being optimal for weight loss, overall it doesn’t seem to make a huge difference. One thing, however, that most nutritionists and food scientists can agree on is the benefit of intermittent fasting.5
Due to its ability to reduce calorie intake, intermittent fasting is pretty effective for weight reduction.6 You won’t be ingesting as many calories unless you make up the difference by eating much more during – and between – meals.
A 2014 study found that over the course of weeks – between 3 and 24 – intermittent fasting decreased body weight anywhere from between 3% and 8%.7
It seems as if there is no hard and fast rule as to the number of meals you should aim to eat each day, with research and studies indicating advantages to lots of different approaches.2
Overall, though, the most important thing to bear in mind when trying to lose weight healthily is to eat nutritious food while expending more calories than you take on board.8
Please consult a healthcare professional before making any significant changes to your diet.