How many times should I eat in a day? Have you ever wondered this? There is so much conflicting advice about how often you should eat every day. Some people say you need to eat five times a day because your body will burn more calories digesting food. Other say to only eat twice a day so that your body will burn fat and not sugar. And still other people want you to eat every 2-3 hours to avoid starving yourself and to control hunger. So, which is it? How frequently should you eat to lose weight?
I used to think that I had to eat every 2-3 hours to burn more calories and keep my metabolism going. I thought that if I skipped a meal, my body would enter starvation mode and I would gain weight and store fat immediately. I also thought that eating 5-6 meals a day was necessary to control my appetite. Are any of these true? Actually, some of them are. Let’s look at each claim more closely and talk about what is best for losing weight.
Thermic Effect of Food
The thermic effect of food is the concept that your body burns more calories when it is digesting food, therefore you should eat smaller, more frequent meals. The idea makes sense. When you eat, your body must digest the food and that takes energy. And since energy is the same thing as calories, you burn more calories when you eat often. However, studies have shown that the number of calories used to digest food is very small. It does not make a big difference in your overall weight loss journey.
Many people believe that your body will switch to “starvation mode” and begin storing fat and burning muscles if you do not eat every 2-3 hours. This is actually false. Our bodies are perfectly capable of using stored fat for fuel in between meals. Your body will not go into starvation mode if you go without eating for 5 hours. Going long periods without eating also has no effect on your metabolism. Your body’s muscle composition has much more to do with your metabolism than how often you eat! Please do not stress about not eating for several hours. I used to worry constantly that if I missed a meal that my body would begin eating my muscles and then break down. I promise that will not happen!
The final theory is that you need to eat often in order to control hunger and cravings. This is actually true. But! There is a great big “however” here. However, you can also train your body to want food only twice a day. Our bodies can easily adjust to different eating schedules. If your body is used to eating every 2-3 hours, then yes, eating that often will help control hunger and cravings. But if you choose to only eat 2-3 times a day, then your body will adjust and only want food at those times. You can train your body to react differently! You are not a slave to your hunger pains.
I think it is more convenient to only eat 2-3 times a day. Eating 6-7 times a day can be difficult It is the equivalent of living paycheck to paycheck. You miss one meal and you are toast. Instead, I have trained my body to burn fat for fuel and go several hours between eating. Should you do this? Only if you want to!
The best way to time your meals is to do what works for you. Look at your schedule and budget and go from there. If two meals make the most sense, go for it. If you prefer to eat throughout the day, then do it. Whatever works best for you and your lifestyle is the best choice. There is no need to stress about following the “right” eating schedule because there is no universal right schedule. The only right schedule is the one that allows you to consistently make healthy food choices while hitting your caloric and macronutrient goals. Everything else is just a distraction.