Salad Bowl

With so many fad diets being thrown around, it can be confusing when deciding what the optimum way of eating is for you. Meal frequency is just one aspect of nutrition with never ending discussions. What a lot people do not realize however, is that the frequency of your meals can be just as important as its contents. So how often should you eat?

Narrowing the subject matter down to meal frequency doesn’t help narrow down the questions involved. Three meals a day? Six meals a day? What about intermitten fasting? There are proponents as well as critics of each of these approaches. Some take the extreme approach in either condemning a way of eating or hailing another as the holy grail of all eating styles. The aim of this post is to take a balance view on this topic and provide objective information along with recommendations.

So what’s involved with the different styles of eating? How does meal frequency affect my health? Is there anyone one approach that works better than another? Besides from my health, are there any other impacts from adopting a specific eating style? Read on to discover the answers to these questions.

Different Meal Frequencies


In terms of meal frequencies, you may have heard of a few different styles already. In this article, we’ll be focusing on just a few of the most common styles: 3 meals per day, 6 meals or more per day, intermittent fasting, and the warrior diet

3 Meals Per Day

Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, your traditional meal plan ever since you were a kid. We’ve all heard the quote “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” Although not everyone that eat 3 meals per day fosalad-watch-852050_640llows this advice, this style of eating emphasizes on eating the most in the morning and the least in the evening.

The times for the meals are very straight forward. Breakfast is shortly after waking up, lunch is around noon time, and dinner is in the evening or night time. This is the most common meal frequency for the general population. No one “goes on” this eating style on purpose or “tries out” this way of eating because they are most likely eating this way already. This style allows for snacking, as long as they aren’t full-blown meals.

6 Meals Per Day

This eating style was all the craze in the mid to late 2000’s. Even though it has fazed out somewhat, it still comes back in full force once every few years. It’s exactly as it sounds, this style involves eating 6 or more times per day. For simplicity’s sake, I will refer to this as 6 meals per day. For the same person, the meal sizes are typically smaller than that of 3 meal per day. Each meal are typically similar in size and calorie count.

Obviously you will be eating much more frequently than the 3 meal per day plan. There are variations in the times of the meals but they generally fall into the follow order: Breakfast, brunch, lunch, small meal between lunch and dinner, dinner, pre-bed meal. Some even wake up in the middle of the night to have another meal, typically in the form of a protein shake.

Intermittent Fasting

This style has existed long before this name was given to it. Old school bodybuilders like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Mike Mentzer were practicing this style of eating back in the day. This style also has different variations, but the basic principle is to eating only within a certain time frame or “window”. The time outside of that window, you are not consuming any calories. However, inside that window, you can eat as many times as you want. Some even suggest eating as much as you want within that time frame, although I personally do not recommend it for beginners.

The size of the meals largely depends on the number of meals you plan to have, and the total time of your eating window. The most common is the 16-8 style, 16 hours of fasting and 8 hours of eating. There’s also the 14-10, 18-6, and any other variations you can think of. Some variations focus on several days or a week instead of just one day. For example, the fast may last for 36 hours, followed by a 12 hour eating window. Or for those of us with more experience with fasting, 48-72 hours of fasting, followed by 24 hours of eating.

balanced-meal-modelFollowers of this style generally skip breakfast, and instead break their fast with the lunch or afternoon meal. This allows for dinner at 8 pm at the latest, which is reasonable for most of us. Some may choose to eat breakfast and lunch and have their last meal in the early to mid afternoon. As long as you’re eating only within your designated window, you are following this style of eating.

Warrior Diet

This name of this style was coined by Ori Hofmekler, a fitness expert that attributes his health and vitality to this style of eating. This style is basically a form of intermittent fasting with a daily 20 hour fasting followed by a 4 hour eating window. Frequency wise, this strict protocol defines the Warrior Diet, with variations allowed only for the number of meals you eat within the 4 hours.

Typically, those that engage in this style eat a very large meal to break their fast due to the accumulated hunger. Some eat so much on that one meal that they do not eat anything else within their 4 hour window. So instead of a 20 hour fast, it may be a 23 hour fast even if it took a full hour to eat. If you decide to space out your meals, simply make sure it’s within the 4 hour eating window.

Effect of Meal Frequency On Health


Now that we understand the 4 major eating styles and what they involved, let’s discuss how these styles affect our health. Instead of analyzing the health effects of each style, we’ll look into how the body reacts to varying frequencies in general. This will give us a broader perspective instead of just how those specific styles affect us. We can also draw conclusions about other styles with this information mind.

Possible Disease Prevention?

A study conducted in 2005 on the effects of meal frequencies showed that a lower meal frequency suppresses the development of different diseases in rodents. The life span of the rodents were also increased with reduced meal frequency compared to higher frequency eating. This increase in life span s related to the increase in stress resistance and the reduction in oxidative damage┬╣.

Obviously, results from rodent testing does not equate similar effects in humans. In addition, other studies have shown that when human subjects ate only one meal per day vs. three meals per day, the fasting blood sugar levels were higher in the “one dog-14619118713gUmealers”. Also, the overall cholesterol, including that of the “bad” LDL cholesterol were higher in the “one mealers” as well. High fasting blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels* have been linked to heart disease and other cognitive disorders.

*Cholesterol is NOT the culprit when it comes to coronary heart disease. This will be explained in a future article.

These studies, including the one conducted in 2005, does not detail the types of food comprising the meals. Since we’re only discussing meal frequency, and food types is a whole different topic on its own, we will leave this up-in-the-air as far as scientific studies go. Don’t worry, we will come back to this later.

Body Composition?

A study was conducted as recently as 2015 showing that eating 6 meals per day resulted in the greatest amount of fat loss when compared with 1 to 2 meals per day and 3 to 4 meals per day┬▓. However, this study discusses conflicting data from other studies that showed different results. The study itself concluded that if body composition improvement is the goal, meal frequency comes down to personal choice. Not exactly the response we get from science is it?

In addition to body composition, satiety was also studied in this test. And just like the fat loss data, there were contradicting results from other studies performed with the same objectives. We will also come back to this point later.

Left In The Dark?


It seems there’s so much contradicting scientific data out there that it’s hard to believe what is true and what isn’t. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to believe in the most recent scientific data published, even if it contradicts something discovered 2 weeks prior. And when new findings come out supporting a previous hypothesis, we are to switch our beliefs again entirely. In reality, this is leaving us in the dark about what really works.

But we don’t need to be left in the dark. In Part 2 of this article, we’ll talk about the right way of eating for your specific needs, how eating frequencies affect us more than just our health alone, and recommendations that go with each eating style, regardless of the one you decide is right for you. So stay tuned!

Stay healthy,

-Wing

UPDATE: Part 2 has been published. So what are you waiting for? Check it out here!

 

Reference:

  1. Mattson, MP. “Energy Intake, Meal Frequency, and Health: A Neurobiological Perspective.” NCBI. N.p., n.d. Web.
  2. Schoenfeld, B. Jon, A. Albert Aragon, and J. W. Krieger. “Effects of Meal Frequency on Weight Loss and Body Composition: A Meta-analysis.” Nutrition Reviews 73.2 (2015): 69-82. Web.
Like What You See? Share It!
Share

Written by 

I've just started getting serious about health and fitness around 2014. Since then I've learned the insider info on how to optimize athletic performance and healthy living through both nutrition and proper training. The most important thing I've discovered however, is the connection between the mindset of those that excel in athletics, and those that succeed in their life pursuits. I've spent the last couple years observing and drawing these connections and similarities, finally created a platform to share with you all what I've found, and how to apply them in your own life to get similar results.

14 thoughts on “How Often Should You Eat? (Part 1)

  1. People get so hung up on diets. I don’t even like the concept.

    Even your articles points out the varying results with different kinds of studies. I am a big believer in moderation.

    Trying to stick to a certain way of eating that is a chore for people is not going to work for them. Follow the research sure but be sensible and eat as well as you are able.

    I have done personal fitness training and the hardest part is not in the gym but in the kitchen.
    You can exercise all you want to but if you don’t improve nutrition the results will not come.

    Especially if your goal is weight or fat loss. You can work out six hours a day but if you leave the gym and eat 3 big macs and fries with a milk shake chaser weight loss will not happen.

    Nutrition is a big key to health and the effects on health that you cover should be considered by people.

    What do you think about the types of diets out there, generally? People looking for short cuts?

    It takes some discipline to be and get healthy, right?

    1. Barry,

      I understand completely with what you’re saying. This is a very saturated topic and pretty much all possible viewpoints and scenarios has been given by different fitness and health gurus. It makes it very annoying.

      You are right with the point on nutrition being the hard part. Hugh Jackman said that when he was training for his part on The Wolverine (the one that takes place in Japan), the workouts were about 30% of what made his physique, and nutrition was the remaining 70%. Personally, I’m willing to say that the relationship is almost 85-15 or even 90-10 nutrition-PT. If you look at the general population of countries that eats healthy natural foods (rural areas of eastern Asian countries like Japan, Cambodia, Thailand or South American countries), they are very healthy and their body compositions say it all. A lot of them do not “workout” or train like a lot us do in developed countries, yet their health and “beach body” is something to be desired.

      I think that the basic information of human nutrition are all available for free if people are willing to put in the work to research it. The different diets are mainly marketing schemes that incorporates basic healthy principles that produces results as long as those principles are applied, nothing to do with the specific diet itself. As far as shortcuts, I think it speaks volumes on the attitude of the people that want to achieve their fitness goals. They won’t enjoy the process nor their results (if they get there) because they wouldn’t experience the hard work.

      Discipline is definitely one of the key factors. In fact, I will be writing a future post regarding discipline.

      But there is a way to see which eating style is right for yourself, so stay tuned for part 2 of this article!

      -Wing

  2. This is a great post that tackles questions I have always had about meals. I am always confused about what is “best” and there is so much information out there it is hard to keep it straight. I am looking forward to reading part two of your article as I am hoping it will help explain the best way to go!

    1. Thank you! I will be posting part 2 sometime this upcoming week. It will definitely answer the questions you have, so stayed tuned

      -Wing

  3. I Try all diffrent styles out, mainly stick to the one were customed to from birth the 3 meals a day diet.

    If I’m training I will eat more and if I’m not I just eat less, this kinda works for me.

    The industry is a flooded with different approaches and for the un educated it can be very confusing even the experts cant agree on anything

    1. Steven,

      It’s definitely good to keep it simple. I feel the same with eating more when training and less when not. I feel less hungry when my activity levels are low anyway and vice versa, so it works out by itself for me.

      Stay tuned for Part 2 because it’s coming out this week!

      -Wing

  4. Very informative and simply set up website. I never heard that eating less meals a day equates to a lower blood sugar level. Are any of these claims scientifically proven. There are many different claims about diet that are thought to be true, but are not. Overall this is a very simple website and easy to navigate through.

  5. Hello Wing! This is a great and very motivating article to me. I can say that my eating frequences change from time to time. Some days I eat 1 or 2 times and other days I eat even 6 meals per day. I think that 6 times a day is much better and healthier than just one or two.

    1. Effie,

      Thank you for reading and I’m happy that you’ve found this motivating. It’s a good thing that you’ve tried different meal frequencies. This is really the best way to find out what works and doesn’t work for you. Thanks for sharing!

      -Wing

  6. Hello Wing,

    I’m eating every two or three hours or whenever I feel hungry. I think that one of the worst things to do is to be hungry. I will never understand fasting or other similar things. That’s mainly because no matter how big my meal is, and no matter what I eat I will still be hungry after 3 or 4 hours. I can’t imagine being 20 hours without food!

    1. Julius,

      I can understand that going without food for some time at first is unimaginable. It simply takes some getting used to. Given one is not a diabetic or suffering from certain metabolic conditions, they should have no problem transitioning into a fast. But eating is one of the pleasures of life and there’s nothing like good food!

      -Wing

  7. Hi wing,
    This article is almost perfect regarding the dieting plan for the healthy lifestyle and I am sure this article is suitable for the patient that have the problem with the metabolic disorder and cardiovascular problem. I have a gastrointestinal problem since five years ago and the doctor said it was gastroesophageal acid reflux, do you have any extra suggestion for alternative dieting plan for me?

    1. Rendall,

      I’m not qualify to give medical advice, but with gastrointestinal problems, I’ve read that people with similar symptoms found relief with non-fermentable, unprocessed whole foods. This is not to be confused with foods that are already fermented like sauerkraut. I’m talking about avoiding foods that can be fermented in your stomach, which causes overgrowth of bacteria.

      I’d follow a process of elimination:

      1. Limit you diet to only whole, organic foods (mostly vegetables, some meat if you want, NO gluten, dairy or grains)

      2. Slowly add in different food types ONE at a time, give yourself about 2 weeks between each addition and record how you feel within those 2 weeks. If you feel sick after the first day or two, discontinue that food and rule it out. I’d recommend getting your biomarkers tested to be sure as well.

      3. Only after finding out what food types work for you and optimizing your diet would I focus on meal frequencies.

      Of course, never ignore the recommendations given by medical professionals so seek their help in this matter if you have more questions. But I’m always here to help where I can so feel free to drop me a line whenever!

      Hope this helps!

      -Wing

Leave a Reply to Wing Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *