I used to think that it didn’t matter how many meals you ate per day.
From a weight loss perspective with all things being equal, it doesn’t matter whether you eat 2, 4 or 6 meals per day.
But the thing is, everyone’s preferences are different. Just about everyone I work with prefers a higher number of meals per day.
Today, you’re going to find out how eating more often throughout the day can actually be highly beneficial for weight loss.
Calories In, Calories Out
Hopefully by now, if you’ve been following along, you know that our total calorie intake is the number 1 deciding factor in weight loss. To keep things as simple as possible and without getting into the nitty gritty with hormones, water retention etc, to lose weight we must be a calorie deficit.
Basically, we need to eat fewer calories than we burn and we’ll lose weight.
And although these calories can come in 1 meal, 2 meals, or 6 meals, if we don’t have our total calories lined up, we won’t be able to lose weight.
So before you even decide how many meals to eat, you need to get a ballpark of your calories and then subtract 200-500 calories on average depending on your total bodyweight.
Again, keeping things simple, for those weighing over 150lbs, multiply your bodyweight by 12-13.
For those under 150lbs multiply your bodyweight by 10-11. Keep in mind these are simply starting figures which will give you an estimate of how many calories you need.
Next, let’s go into exactly why I believe more meal frequency is best for the majority of people’s weight loss goals.
You Can’t Stop Snacking
The biggest issue I see with the less frequent meal approach (ie 2 meals a day) is that a huge chunk of the day is spent being hungry.
At least hungrier than is necessary for weight loss.
You know exactly what happens if you get hungry and there are snacks laying around at work or at home? You’re going to eat them.
So even though you may only be eating 2 meals per day, your snacking habits can rack up the calories quick and in no time you’re completely erasing any of the calorie deficit you thought was there.
If, however, you eat more meals per day but evenly spread the calories, you have a better chance of following your plan without overconsuming excess calories.
More meals in the day can potentially equate to less snacking, and fewer additional calories that might normally erase your calorie deficit.
You Have Long Days
Let’s say you get up early, around 6 am or so and you go to bed around 10/11pm.
That’s about 16 hours that you’re awake. If you ate 2 meals that day and you spaced them evenly that means you’d have 8 hours between meals.
That would suck. To me at least.
I honestly don’t know many people that enjoy going 6, 7, or 8 hours without eating. I mean I’m usually hungry 2-3 hours after a meal.
From a logistics perspective, waking up early doesn’t lend itself well to a reduced frequency of meals.
Not unless you want to be really hangry all day long.
So if you wake up early or are awake for more than 12 hours a day, it’s probably a good idea to have more meals than fewer meals.
You’ll stay fuller longer with a higher frequency of meals which will help you control your food intake.
You Want to Lose Weight But Not Starve All Day
When you’re losing weight, you should get hungry. But being hungry and literally feeling like you could chew your arm off are two different things.
From a consistency and sustainability perspective, I’ve found my clients do much better with more meals than fewer meals. When I say more, I’m talking 4-5 meals instead of a 2 meal or even standard 3 meal approach.
With 4-5 meals, there’s enough flexibility to fit your diet around your life and schedule, but enough structure to keep you consistent.
You’re Weight Training Consistently
Since you’re reading this post there’s a good chance that you’re already lifting or are following a lifting routine at the moment.
When you add resistance training into the picture, it’s important to get proper nutrition before and after your workouts.
We could get into a long nutrient timing discussion but the fact is, your workouts will be more productive if you’ve gotten in a pre-workout meal of some sort within at least 3 hours of your training.
If you eat lunch at 12 pm and then go to the gym at 6pm, there’s a good chance your energy will be down a bit if you haven’t eaten in 6 hours.
Getting in a good dose of protein and some carbs before your workout can be very beneficial to being able to push yourself hard in the gym.
And, if you’re going to the gym to lift you want to be fueled up to train hard. A good pre-workout meal will lead to better performance and strength and will contribute to weight loss.
Then, after your workout, getting protein and some carbs for recovery is also a smart idea.
This is where giving yourself more meals per day can be really important.
You’ll be able to evenly spread your meals out, have a pre and post workout meal, and still lose weight.
Sounds like a win-win to me.
Practical Tips for Better Consistency and Weight Loss
Here are some things to consider when you’re deciding how many meals to eat per day.
- How many meals per day will allow you to be consistent, feel as full as possible, and make progress?
- Is it a workout day? If so, adding a meal can be helpful. If it’s a non-lifting day, fewer meals can work just fine because you’ll be expending less energy and won’t have the need for a pre/post workout meal.
- Aim to space your meals out fairly evenly throughout the day. Try to feel some hunger before eating your next meal and aim to eat every 3-4 hours on average.
- Keep protein powder and/or low-calorie snacks on hand with you or at work at all times.
- Stick to your frequency of meals every day. Instead of winging it every day, decide how many meals you’re going to eat each day ahead of time (depending on workout schedule) and stick to that. This will definitely help with accountability and consistency.
What’s Your Preference?
I’m willing to bet that *most* people will do best reaching their weight loss goals eating between 4-6 meals per day.
Based on clients’ results, my own results, and much of the feedback I receive, it seems that a more frequent meal schedule allows people to be more consistent and helps with sustainable weight loss.
If you’re someone that is dead set on eating 2 meals per day that’s completely fine. If it’s working for you that’s great.
But if it’s not, you may want to give a more frequent meal structure a try to see if you get better results.
Because at the end of the day that’s what matters.
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