Meals, Snacks & Your Metabolic Rate


In class yesterday, one of our participants was wondering if eating five or six mini meals is better for her metabolism than eating three major meals. At Green Mountain we work with three main meals, but also give people the opportunity to add snacks throughout the day as needed because everyone is different in terms of their nutrition needs. However there are a few basic guidelines we do encourage as far as timing of meals goes: don’t skip breakfast and don’t have super long stretches of time in between meals (five hours or more is getting into the “super long” range).

Numerous books and article are written on the supposed benefits of snacking to encourage weight loss versus eating fewer but larger meals. However, breaking your meals up into many small snacks won’t necessarily guarantee a metabolic boost and major weight loss. Trying to work with someone else’s structure for meal timing may not work with your body or your schedule. For example, if I try to eat every three hours, I might find that some of those time frames roll around and I’m not hungry. If I force myself to eat anyway in order to stick to the schedule, I may actually be encouraging overeating.

I found an interesting collection of information on the subject of snacking in this article To Snack or Not to Snack, That is the Question. One study cited in the article said that people who snacked when they were not hungry did not compensate at the following meal by eating less. So the non-hunger snacking actually increased their overall intake. It also mentioned that eating frequently was associated with lower body weight for men, but did not encourage weight loss for women. Interesting…

On the other hand there are a lot of good things to say about snacking or having mini meals. Having smaller meals, more frequently, could have the benefit of lowering blood lipid levels and stabilizing insulin levels after eating. So a pattern like this could really be helpful for those with insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, or PCOS.  It really doesn’t have to be one or the other. A combination of meals and snacks based on your schedule and physical need for food is the way to go!

What works for you?  Do you find that you prefer many small meal, a few major meals, or a combination of both?

8 responses to “Meals, Snacks & Your Metabolic Rate”

  1. Angie says:

    Great post!

    I find that this question comes up frequently among my clients/patients too.

    I feel the same way…eat breakfast, don’t go long stretches between meals, and beyond that, it becomes an individualized choice.

    For me, it is different day to day. Some days, I might eat 3 meals and be very satisfied. Some days, I need snacks. I love the idea of listening to your body and not promoting forced snacking just for the sake of eating 5-6 small meals a day. However, I think, in many active lifestyles, perhaps 4-6 small meals work well.

    Great, thought-provoking post!

  2. Cindy says:

    I remember asking our Executive Director (husband of our Marsha), Dr. Wayler, about this idea of mini meals boosting metabolic rate (this was about 15 years ago), b/c some study had just come out supporting the idea. Alan, a PhD in nutritional biochemistry and metabolism, looked right at me and said, “Why don’t we get you to eat THREE MEALS A DAY as a start.” The logic felt like a brick landing on my head. Haha!! That all-or-nothing behavior rearing it’s ugly head once again. I was so far away from the norm at that point that considering the ideal was actually pretty humorous.

  3. Marsha says:

    For the most part, I’m happy with three meals a day especially when they’re being made for me here at Green Mountain. When I’m on my own, sometimes my lunches in particular sometimes look more like snacks as I don’t get too involved in food prep in the middle of the day. So I find then that I usually need a snack to get me through until dinner. I love the confidence of knowing that my body knows best and when it tells me I need to eat, I’m in with that.

  4. Tracey says:

    I agree about the 3 meals but with a few snacks along the way so the portions are controlled and there is less gorging. I try to eat breakfast even if it’s just a bar and maybe some fruit as a snack. Lunch is usually a salad or open faced (one slice of bread) sandwich and then maybe a few chips and salsa before dinner. I like a protein at dinner with some rice or rice noodles and lots of spices and herbs which make up for the lowfat!!
    .-= Tracey’s last blog post..DETOX DAY TWO =-.

  5. Three meals and two snacks in between those meals is what works best for me. The key is not to let myself get hungry. I tried the six small meals but I never felt full or satisfied.

  6. love2eatinpa says:

    i am definitely a grazer. i eat mini meals and snacks throughout the day. i am a recovering compulsive eater and find that this works best to keep my energy level on an even keel as well as it makes me feel like i get to eat all the time. 🙂

  7. This is such an interesting topic. I generally recommend that my clients eat 3 meals and 1-3 snacks per day. It really varies. I find that most everyone needs that 4 pm snack, some people need an evening snack, and fewer also need the morning snack. I make sure they focus in on whether they are truly hungry before eating so that they don’t just eat the snack because they think they have to.
    .-= Nutritioulicious’s last blog post..Tackling Super Bowl =-.

  8. Susan says:

    I usually eat 3 meals and 2 snacks – one at 5am before exercising and one around 3pm. Since I try to eat to satiety and not fullness, I find that I’m often hungry 2 hours after a meal.

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