How Many Times a Day Should You Eat For Weight Loss? A Dietitian's Answer

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POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio
POPSUGAR Photography | Maria del Rio

When it comes to eating for weight loss, there seems to be two schools of thought: some people believe you should eat three well-balanced meals a day and others think you should eat five or six smaller meals spread out throughout the day. Those in the three-meals-a-day camp argue that three meals are all you need to eat a day's worth of quality, well-balanced nutrition, while those who eat five meals a day claim it helps rev up your metabolism and lose weight. So who is correct?

Both, actually, according to Jim White, RD, ACSM, owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios.

"Eating three, five, or even six meals a day can all work [for weight loss]," he told POPSUGAR. "It's all about creating a caloric deficit and what works for each person." He said some people have bigger appetites and prefer to graze throughout the day, while others prefer bigger portions and larger meals just three times a day. At the end of the day, it's all about how many calories you are ingesting.

"The bigger question for weight loss is how many calories are consumed," he added. "If you consumed 1,200 calories at three meals but 2,500 calories at five meals, as far as weight loss goes, the three meals will produce more weight loss because of the deficit." But if you portion out five small meals at 300 calories each, those 1,500 calories for your whole day could lead to weight loss, depending on your calorie needs.

When it comes to his clients, Jim prefers to recommend three moderate meals a day plus two snacks. He said eating frequently gives your body the fuel to keep you energized throughout the day and can help stabilize blood sugar. Plus, by eating frequently, you are less likely to get so hungry that you binge at your next meal or make unhealthy choices.

Although losing weight is all about how many calories you eat throughout the day, Jim doesn't recommend that you eat them all at one time, which is a form of intermittent fasting (fasting for 18 hours and eating in a six-hour window). "By eating your food, especially unhealthy food, all at once, you may experience bloating, indigestion, and sluggishness," he said. By spacing out your food throughout the day, it can be digested and absorbed easier, which will help you feel better physically.

When it comes to weight loss, eating three meals and two snacks a day isn't one-size-fits-all. It's all about how you feel throughout the day, what your body needs, and paying attention to your hunger cues.