Is it important to eat three meals a day?
So, have you been told that it’s important to eat three meals a day, and you’re wondering if this is true? Should we aim to eat more regularly, or even fast for a few hours a day, or a few days a week? Proper nutrition and timing of meals seems to become more and more complicated with each year, as new diets come into fashion, and old styles of eating fall by the wayside (Aktins or Pritikin, anyone?)
I believe that it is very important to eat three meals a day as this allows your body to get the regular nutrition it needs, while ensuring you never get too hungry or too full. By focusing on just three, balanced meals you are simplifying your life and eating, and guarding yourself against bingeing, or overeating. Personally I found that eating too regularly could cause me to overeat, and focusing on snacking was derailing my efforts to lose weight, and to maintain a healthy weight.
I used to be overweight. In fact, I was borderline obese, and for me that means I was 84 kilos on a frame of 168 centimeters, or about 185 pounds and 5 foot 6 inches. I remember working it out, and realising that at that particular weight, I had a BMI (body mass index) of 29.5 and that calculates as the upper end of overweight. Once you hit a BMI of 30, you’re officially obese. Read more in my article The BMI index is not suitable for everyone. Here’s why
Studies on the frequency of eating and weight loss
There have been many studies done on the timing and frequency of food consumption and the results seem to vary quite dramatically. One eating frequency study looked at female participants only and had one test group consume two meals a day and one group consume eight meals a day. Disappointingly, neither diet showed to have any long lasting effects when it came to weight loss. However, from this small study the scientists were able to declare that, “the results from this study (did) not support the popularised notion that small, frequent meals help to decrease overall appetite.”
This is where I add my frequent disclaimer that I am not a nutritionist, and have no medical qualifications. I am just a regular dieter like you who’s interested in maintaining a healthy weight. However, personally I found that fasting caused me to binge, and frequent snacking caused me to overeat, as the focus on food and feeding myself made up too much of my day.
I have tried many eating plans and diets in my day
At one stage I tried Weight Watchers, a very popular program that is not without its merits. However, back when I did it, it was the “old school” Weight Watchers where you showed up to meetings to get weighed, and were given hardcopy recipe books, filled with pictures of delicious looking food. I used to obsess over these little recipe books and look forward to cooking and eating too much, with the result being – no significant weight loss.
“It appears eating at least three times per day can keep you full and reduce hunger,” says Harvard Health. “This is good for weight loss. Eating fewer than three times a day puts you at risk for overeating and choosing less healthy foods.”
I previously wrote an extended article called Is Eating “6 Small Meals a Day to Keep Your Metabolism Going” a Myth? And I wrote that I do not agree that snacking frequently was a good option for me. “Snacking was my downfall,” I wrote, Yes, you heard me right. I, like most people, have been sold the line most of my adult life that it was essential to snack. That we must make sure that we keep our metabolisms going. We must make sure that we are never hungry. I don’t think this was a good way for me to think.”
Why eating three meals a day could be a great option for you:
- You will build up a decent appetite between meals, without getting too hungry. Allowing yourself to feel hunger teaches your body about appropriate hunger cues, and when your body actually needs fuel to fire its movement.
- You won’t feel the need to binge, as you know your next meal is just around the corner. Fasting leads too often to binges, as it sets up a starvation mentality. Whereas frequent, small meals can mean that you need to exercise cautious discipline and stop eating after just one or two hundred calories. This is a challenge for many of us!
- You can focus on getting three balanced meals. Snacks are often not composed of many different food groups and are more likely to be a simple carb, whereas a proper meal should include protein, carbs, veggies/fruit and some fats. Make each one of your three meals a balanced one and it will see you through to the next meal.
- You free up time and energy to do other things. Three meals a day works well for busy people as there’s not as much planning as with five or six meals. Personally, I like to eat the most for breakfast, then a decent lunch, and finally, I have a small and reasonable dinner. Read one of my most popular posts “Can’t” Eat Breakfast in the Morning? Here’s Why.
So, can I ever snack, or is three meals a day all I get?
Yes, you can definitely snack, just don’t make it a habit. I often snack when I need to, and some days we are just hungrier than we usually are. This can be for hormonal reasons, because of stress, lack of sleep, sickness, and exercise and movement.
If your body is telling you to eat a piece of chocolate, then go on. If your body is telling you it’s craving something salty, then have those peanuts. The idea is to let go of the hold that food has on your life, and to make peace with food, so that it is never forbidden.
If you want to read a great book about making peace with food, I recommend the surprising tell-all memoir by Portia de Rossi, the wife of talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. I reviewed this excellent book in my article Anorexia and Bulimia: Portia de Rossi talks and I highly recommend it. It’s written beautifully and it’s very honest.
Yes, it is important to eat three meals a day
But you have to find what works for you. Perhaps you’re a frequent exerciser who needs extra energy? Perhaps you’re a breastfeeding mother? Perhaps you can’t stand large meals and prefer to take in smaller meals of 200 calories each. Perhaps you’re so rushed off your feet that sitting down three times a day would be a total chore?
The key is to listen to your body, do your research and to try lots of things in a sensible way. Even though I ultimately decided that fasting was not good for me, the lessons it taught me were invaluable to my journey to health. We don’t usually need to eat as often as we think we do, for many of us, eating three times a day is just perfect.
How many times a day do you eat? Tell me in the comments below!
Images by Pexels, thank you.