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?