Should I Eat 3 Square Meals a Day For Weight Loss? These Dietitians Weigh In
It sounds like your mom's golden advice: you should eat three meals a day to be healthy. Proponents of eating three meals a day claim it can regulate blood sugar and is better for overall health. But others claim eating five smaller meals, or three moderate meals and two small snacks, a day is actually more beneficial for appetite control and weight loss. So which one is it? We tapped some dietitians to find out.
How 3 Meals a Day Affects Blood Sugar
"When it comes to blood sugar regulation, the quality of meals, compared to the number of meals, is more important," Bari Stricoff, RD, told POPSUGAR. If each meal has high-quality protein, whole grain carbs, and healthy fats, it will regulate blood sugar and keep you satisfied until your next meal. The same goes for whether you eat three moderate meals or five smaller meals.
However, if you're eating foods that aren't nutrient-dense and made of simple carbohydrates, you'll experience spikes and drops in your blood sugar. In this case, Bari recommends eating more frequently to reduce low blood sugar.
When You Should Eat 5 Smaller Meals Instead
In addition to helping with blood sugar dips and spikes, eating five smaller meals a day, or three moderate meals and two snacks, could help regulate your appetite and even lead to weight loss, explained Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE author of 2-Day Diabetes Diet.
"I recommend smaller frequent meals to my clients as a way of providing steady energy, stabilizing blood sugar, and preventing excessive hunger that can lead to indulging in less healthy foods," she told POPSUGAR.
So if you're looking to lose weight, or want to ward off hunger pangs in between meals, you may want to eat more frequently.
Bottom Line: It's Up to You
Ultimately, the choice of how many times a day you should eat boils down to personal preference. You should listen to your body — you should eat when you get hungry and stop when you're satisfied. If you get hungry frequently throughout the day, then it might make more sense to eat five smaller meals or at least a couple small snacks in between meals.
"If you do choose to forgo snacking and opt for just three meals per day,
make sure each meal is well balanced with a good source of protein, healthy fat, and fiber to ensure you stay satisfied and energized in between meals," Erin explained.
Your body also gets used to a routine, depending on how often you eat. "When you eat regular meals at similar times, your body is ready for it and your enzymes and digestive juices show up, Ginny K. Mirenzi, MS, RD, CDE, Education Coordinator at the Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center. "You develop a hunger for meals at those times. Also, your body gets used to the amounts you eat, and can be satisfied with smaller meals."
At the end of the day, weight loss comes from eating in a calorie deficit; whether you eat them spread out throughout the day in five meals or three is up to you.