Sooo we’ve always been taught to eat 3 meals per day.
But what if that’s not really the best thing for everyone? I mean, all of our bodies work a little differently right?!
I did a little research and also consulted with registered dietitian Breanna Woods so we could find out!
Why eating 3 meals per day is the norm
So here’s how eating the traditional 3 meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) became a thing:
There is some variation in the different histories I read, but basically we started eating this way around the time normal work hours were formed in the US. We like predictability and routine, so the combination of these things turned into a habit of eating breakfast, lunch and dinner.
So it’s mostly a cultural thing… But there are some scientific benefits that make sense too.
Eating 3 meals per day spreads out our calories to keep us fueled throughout the day. It keeps our blood sugar nice and stable so we’re less likely to feel like we’re dragging halfway through the day, and it keeps us satisfied so we don’t mindlessly graze on snacks all day long.
But do other eating schedules work better for some people? Maybe!
What about fasting or skipping meals?
We’ve all heard that skipping meals is a bad idea. But why?
People assume that means that skipping breakfast makes you gain weight. But really, it just means that people who tend to skip breakfast also tend to overeat the rest of the day. However, there is also some research that suggests that eating breakfast helps with better blood sugar control throughout the rest of the day. But overall, it’s probably not necessary to eat breakfast if you’re not hungry.
Skipping meals in general can make you feel tired, sluggish and grumpy. It’s not going to hurt you if it happens every now and then, but if you’re skipping meals all the time with the intention of dieting, you won’t be doing your metabolism any favors.
So what about intermittent fasting?
Because people who follow intermittent fasting technically skip breakfast, right?
All of us technically fast when we go to sleep. People who follow the traditional intermittent fasting method of fasting for 16 hours with an 8-hour “eating period” are just extending that fast. In theory, a longer fasting period forces the body to use up all of its glycogen stores so it starts burning fat for energy. The research doesn’t seem super strong, but this eating style has recently become pretty popular.
It could definitely work, I’m just not so sure how sustainable it is for most people.
Are some of us better off eating smaller, more frequent meals?
Some say that eating 5 or 6 smaller meals throughout the day is the best way to eat. In theory, eating several small meals will keep your blood sugar and insulin levels in check and also curb cravings. This matters because blood sugar and insulin fluctuation plays a role in weight gain and fat storage.
But what does the science say?
Well, science doesn’t really seem to support these theories very strongly. Actually, eating larger less frequent meals has been shown to keep blood sugar more stable overall. Studies also show that people have better appetite control when they eat larger, less frequent meals.
So basically, eating several small meals throughout the day probably won’t do anything crazy like ramp up your metabolism. But there’s no harm in eating this way if it works for you.
Remember to think big picture!
No matter what “eating style” you prefer, the most important thing is still the quality of your food. There’s no magic meal timing that’s going to outweigh the benefits of eating healthy foods. So if the traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner is working for you, stick with it! If you feel better eating more small meals throughout the day, that’s awesome! If intermittent fasting is sustainable and makes you feel amazing, keep it up!
Just remember that it always comes back to these principles:
- Eat when you’re hungry
- Choose whole, nutrient-dense foods most often
- If you want to lose weight, what you eat overall in a day matters. Not WHEN you eat.