If you are overweight, you may be wondering how many meals you should eat each day to lose weight. Many popular diet plans suggest increasing the number of meals you eat each day, but several studies, including a 2009 review published in the journal "Nutrition Reviews" do not support this suggestion. As you plan your weight loss strategy, keep in mind that the types and portions of foods you eat matter more than the number of meals you eat each day.
Planning the Number of Meals You Eat Each Day
To successfully lose weight, you must change the way you eat and your level of physical activity. Each food and beverage you eat or drink contains a certain number of calories, which represent the energy in food. If you want to lose weight, you will need to use more calories -- or energy -- than you take in. If you eat three meals a day, it is possible that you might lose weight, gain weight, or remain at the same weight depending on what you eat.
A 2009 review published in the journal "Nutrition Reviews" reviewed 25 studies and found no relationship between frequency of eating and how much people weigh. Instead, our current scientific knowledge indicates weight loss is related to what you eat at each meal and your amount and intensity of physical activity.
Frequency of Meals and Appetite Control
While the number of meals you eat each day will not affect your weight, you should not eat fewer than three meals per day -- eating less makes it more difficult to control your appetite. In other words, eating so rarely will make you very hungry which may cause you to overeat.
To eat three meals a day and lose weight, be selective about the foods you eat at each meal, choosing low-calorie foods if you are trying to lose weight. Low-calorie foods include fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and low-fat dairy products. To lose weight, you will also need to eat smaller portions of foods to ensure that daily caloric intake does not exceed the total number of calories you are expending. Remember that many packaged foods have several servings in the container. Check the label of each food you eat and make sure to only eat one serving of food by dividing the food in the package by the number of servings.
Any type of physical activity can be helpful in losing weight. If you are not currently very active, add short periods of activity to your daily routine. Start with a lower intensity activity that you like, such as walking or gardening. If you are already physically active, try to increase the intensity of your exercise by doing an activity like swimming, tennis, or basketball. The Centers for Disease Control recommends two hours of moderately intense exercise for adults aged 18 to 64 each week.
- “Nutrition Reviews”; Association Between Eating Frequency, Weight, and Health; Michelle A. Palmer; 2009
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Aim for a Healthy Weight.
- “The Journal of Nutrition”; The Effect of Eating Frequency on Appetite Control and Food Intake: Brief Synopsis of Controlled Feeding Studies; Heather J. Leidy, Wayne W. Campbell; 2010
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Physical Activity for Everyone.
- “Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise”; Compendium of Physical Activities: an update of activity codes and MET intensities; Barbara E. Ainsworth, et al.; 2000.