Are three meals or six meals a day better for weight loss?

For as long as you can remember, you’ve eaten breakfast in the morning, lunch around noon, dinner in the evening, and a snack or two somewhere in between. But you may have heard the advice to eat five or six small meals throughout the day to lose weight. The reason behind this idea is that by keeping your belly full you’ll boost your metabolism, not feel as hungry, and regulate your blood sugar, which all help you eat fewer calories and burn more calories throughout the course of the day.

But does this amped-up eating pattern help you lose weight? For some people, it does. For most, however, it probably doesn’t. Read on to see if changing your meal routine is something you should try.

The Bottom Line

Let’s cut to the chase. Weight loss isn’t about how frequently you eat or how small your meals are. Rather, it’s about how many calories you consume versus how many you burn. Creating that calorie deficit is what leads to weight loss.

So the question is, could you eat fewer calories and burn more calories by eating smaller, more frequent meals? Research has shown that most often it doesn’t work that way. In fact, for many people, it does the opposite. Having food in front of you more often is another opportunity to overeat.

How It May Help

Some people, however, do find that eating smaller more frequent meals is helpful for weight loss. These people usually have a high degree of self-control to prevent themselves from overeating. If snacking is your downfall, then planned meals may be your answer to stave off cravings. Also, if going too long between meals causes you to overeat when mealtime finally rolls around, then eating a small meal every three hours may help this problem. You just have to watch your calorie count.

Do It the Right Way

If you want to try the mini-meal method, here are a few tips to keep you on the right track.

1. Determine your calorie needs. If you’re trying to shed a few pounds, subtract at least 500 calories from you current intake. Keep in mind it’s dangerous for women to eat less than 1,200 calories a day and men less than 1,500, so don’t go lower than that. Take your daily calorie goal and divide it by five. This is how many calories you should consume at each meal.

2. You must avoid the danger of overeating by controlling portion sizes. It’s a good idea to make a list of sensible small meals and their portion sizes to choose from each day. As you plan what to eat, consult this list for meal ideas and to remind yourself how much oatmeal you can eat for breakfast, how much trail mix you should have for an afternoon snack, and how much salmon is adequate for dinner.

3. It’s important to choose the right foods. Be sure to include a source of protein and fiber with each small meal so you feel satisfied and energized for the next three hours. Examples include reduced-fat cheese with fruit, veggies and hummus dip, Greek yogurt and fruit, and grilled chicken with quinoa. Avoid empty carbs and processed foods that fill you up, but only temporarily.

Decide for yourself whether it’s a smart idea for you to try a five-meal plan. If it’s not for you, stick with three meals a day, watch your calories, and keep pushing yourself in the gym!