Holy conflicting science batman! If you go by science alone, you will find a whole lot of nothing. As in, no clear answer. If you go by what you learn in school, three balanced meals are perfect. If you go by the ‘bro’ in the gym, you learn you need six meals a day to keep your metabolism running. So, what is best for weight loss? How often Should I Eat to Lose Weight?
What Does Science Have to Do with It
For the last several years, many studies have come out showing that Fat Loss is superior at three meals, and that Fat loss is superior at six meals, and that Fat Loss is superior at one meal. The science is everywhere. In fact, we have multiple conflicting studies from well-respected scientists.
The real problem is the studies can all be replicated. Science has proven three meals are optimal for fat loss. Science has also proven six meals are optimal for fat loss. This has been proven time and time again. For example, this study, shows that all meal structures are equal.
Then, this study, shows all meal structures are the same, except six meals a day will make you hungrier. Then you have a study like this which concludes one meal can improve body composition, lower cortisol levels, but make you hungrier compared to three meals a day. Then this study confirms that fifteen previous studies were not accurate and the results inconclusive.
To complicate things more, The Society of Sports Nutrition came out with official findings. These finding were more meals does not help sedimentary individuals body composition, nor help burn more calories or stimulate the metabolism. More meals can help with lean mass sparring abilities when consuming increased protein. More meals for athletic individuals can also lead to superior health such as better cholesterol and insulin sensitivity.
The Problem with Science and The Fitness Industry
The problem with the science is that it all conflicts. Not only does it conflict, what is considered definite can be easily disproven. For example, The Society of Sports Nutrition’s findings that eating more meals can improve lean mass in the athletic body can be causation. Increased protein is proven to help any individual maintain more muscle mass. The findings can easily be interpreted and attributed to protein, and not meal frequency.
The reason is all studies which show favorable results are under specific conditions. The conditions are often independently proven to produce the same results. So, if the definite science is not exactly concrete, and the individual non-biased studies are conflicting, what is the right answer?
If you listen to any other diet guru or diet plan, you already have an answer. That is the problem. Since the science is all over the map, people swear by what works for them, and using conformation bias (This is your brain seeking out information to prove your opinion is right) will find research that supports them. Since science does say everything works, I am positive you read on ‘Joe Blows Fitness Blog’ that six meals a day works best. He would know, he has a six pack.
What works for ME may not work for YOU.
This is the crux of this website. What diet works for me may not work for you. Rather than tell you do follow a ketogenic diet, or eat a vegetarian diet, I am here to give you the science, practical advice, and let you make your own decision.
The science supports every angle. I personally use the one meal a day approach. It allows me to have one big meal and eat like I want to, while also not worrying about food all day. Plus, I can better track what I eat and after a while, it manages hunger well.
Even when dieting, I can have a normal meal with friends or family at a restaurant and not ruin my diet. I also feel better not eating during the day and am more productive. When I eat, I get sluggish and do not want to exercise or work. I have been this way my entire life, and now know the best thing for me to be productive and live a healthy life style is eating one meal a day, using Intermittent Fasting (IF).
With this diet, I can gain muscle and burn fat. I just need to adjust my diet accordingly. Enough protein, and the right kind of protein, is required to build muscle. This works perfectly for me as I know nutrition and know the science, plus I know my body.
What should you do?
If you are hungry all day and still eat three meals a day, but just can’t stop snacking, six meals may be perfect for you. If you feel better and can eat healthier on six meals a day, then go for it. The science supports you, just like it does me.
If you like the traditional three meals a day, and you do not snack all the time, and are able to eat healthy enough to lose weight, go for it. The science supports this approach as much as it supports six meals a day.
The point is, do what works for you. The number of meals does not matter. The frequency does not matter. Every approach has its pro’s and con’s. A study will prove one meal is better for insulin today, and tomorrow another study will prove six meals a day is better for insulin.
The number of meals you eat to lose weight comes down to one question. How often should I eat to lose weight? Not how often the guy at the gym eats. Not how often your doctor eats. If you lose weight on a specific number of meals, go for it. Even if you do something I don’t do, it can be right.
Find all the resources used in this article and the scientific basis of all our article at The Science Behind Fitness.