Everyone has heard the saying that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” at least a time or two (or a thousand times!) in their lives. Many people also believe that eating five to six small meals every day is best for health and weight loss. Are these widespread beliefs true? Read on to take a look at the research behind meal timing and how many meals are best to eat each day for generally healthy adults and people trying to lose weight.
Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of the Day?
Since the bodies of children and adults are vastly different, we are going to focus on adults in this entire post. Breakfast is great for children to ensure that hunger pangs do not get in the way of their concentration in school. But, when it comes to adults, there is no real research that confirms that eating breakfast is all that important if you are not hungry in the morning. If you, as an adult, also feel huger pangs when you skip breakfast that get in the way of performing well at work or performing your other important morning tasks, then by all means, eat a healthy breakfast.
However, if you are not hungry in the morning, don’t feel guilty about skipping this meal, because there is no reason to force yourself to eat when you are not hungry (especially if you are trying to lose weight).
Is Eating Five or Six Meals a Day Better Than Eating Three?
One theory behind eating five meals a day that is mostly false is that it “speeds up your metabolism.” Any time you eat, your metabolism is boosted slightly just to help your body digest and utilize the nutrients in your meals. However, it doesn’t sky-rocket to the point where it will really affect your weight gain or weight loss.
What eating five or six mini-meals a day instead of three larger meals can do for you is keep you from getting so hungry between meals that you make bad food choices at lunch and dinner due to being so ravenous. If eating this way helps you fight cravings, then there is no reason to stop.
However, if you are happy with eating three (or even one or two, which we will get into next) meals a day and this eating schedule doesn’t leave you so ravenous that you overeat during your meals, then switching to five or six mini-meals really won’t benefit you unless you suffer from diabetes or hypoglycemia and need to spread out that food to keep your blood sugar steady.
What is Intermittent Fasting and is It Healthy?
If you are unfamiliar with intermittent fasting, there are several variations, but the most popular version of this eating schedule involves eating just one meal or a meal and a snack within just a six hour window of the day. Most people who follow this eating plan tend to keep their food window during dinner or lunch hours. Some people allow small sources of calories, like creamer in their coffee, outside of this designated “eating window.”
This is one way of eating that does have some good research behind it, and studies show it can help prevent insulin resistance, which can ward off diabetes and metabolic disorders. Intermittent fasting can also reduce inflammation in your body and ward off many types of diseases. This may be due to the ability of your body to focus on repairing itself much more when it is not constantly distracted with the task of digesting food.
Many people limiting their intake to lose weight also find that by eating one large meal a day instead of several smaller ones, they feel more satisfied and are more easily able to stick to their daily caloric goals.
While this may sound strange, think about how a 1600 calorie diet would be split up among five or six meals – every meal would have to be relatively small and may not seem like enough to be satiating. However, by eating the same 1600 calories in just one meal and a large snack, suddenly many more old favorite dishes, like large plates of pasta or even a healthy, yet high calorie hearty portion of nuts or other favorite snacks can be enjoyed with no guilt.
Like all of the other eating schedules, however, it all comes down to what works best for you and makes you feel your best. No one should force themselves to follow an eating schedule for weight loss that doesn’t make them feel good, because at the end of the day, as long as you are eating healthy foods, when you eat them doesn’t really matter!