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How Often Should You Eat to Lose Weight?

by
author image Sandi Busch
Sandi Busch received a Bachelor of Arts in psychology, then pursued training in nursing and nutrition. She taught families to plan and prepare special diets, worked as a therapeutic support specialist, and now writes about her favorite topics – nutrition, food, families and parenting – for hospitals and trade magazines.
How Often Should You Eat to Lose Weight?
A young woman is holding a salad. Photo Credit Hill Street Studios/Blend Images/Getty Images

Meal frequency influences several factors that can support your weight-loss efforts, but the research to date is still too limited to offer definitive advice, according to a review in the April 2014 issue of “Nutrition.” Eating at least three meals daily can fight off hunger and regulate blood sugar. The number of times you eat during the day, however, may not have a big effect on weight gain or loss.

Reduce Hunger

When the same number of calories were consumed over three meals vs. two meals, researchers found that more frequent meals increased the feeling of fullness over a 24-hour period, according to research published in the June 2008 issue of the “British Journal of Nutrition.” The same study reported that eating three meals boosted fat metabolism compared to less frequent meals. However, the researchers did not find a difference in diet-induced thermogenesis, or the amount of energy used to digest food.

Stabilize Blood Sugar

Blood sugar levels are affected by the frequency and timing of meals. The best way to keep blood sugar at a steady level is to eat three meals and one or two snacks at the same time each day, according to the University of Illinois. Preventing swings in blood sugar can help you lose weight in several ways. It prevents the potential conversion of sugar into fat that occurs when too much sugar floods your bloodstream. You’ll also avoid feeling hungry because of low blood sugar, and you’ll have sustained energy.

Effect on Weight Loss

Researchers at the University of Ottawa conducted a study in which overweight adults consumed the same number of calories, but one group divided the calories between three meals and three snacks, while the other group ate only three meals. After eight weeks, there were no differences in weight loss between the two groups, according to a report in the April 2010 issue of the “British Journal of Nutrition.” The study included only 16 participants, however; the same results may not be found in larger, more diverse groups of people.

Develop a Plan

The American Heart Association reports that the number of meals you eat is probably not as important as two other variables -- the total number of calories you eat and making sure you do not skip meals, which can deprive your body of the nutrients. Begin by determining the total number of calories you want to consume each day, then divide the calories equally between the number of times you prefer to eat. Make each of your main meals 50 percent fruits and vegetables, 25 percent lean protein and 25 percent whole grains to maximize your nutrients.

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