“I’m hungry!” says the tummy to the brain some 4 million times a day (welcome to the world of food writing!). “But mealtime is in a few hours,” pleads the computer-glued brain to the gurgling stomach, eventually surrendering and grabbing a handful of something edible—and surprisingly, rarely is the next meal-time appetite ruined. How is that, exactly? And just how many times a day should we be eating?
The standard three-meals-per-day was likely delivered to us by mythology and our sun-reliant activity (with bigger meals coming earlier in the day) coupled with just how much we can actually eat in a single sitting. Tribal cultures were often used to eating every third day versus three times in one—and as agrarian lifestyle settled in requiring routine behavior, so the mealtime regulated itself as well. Humans are creatures of habit—and hungry ones at that—making it easy to understand how we’ve propelled this habit into modernity, but the demands on the modern human are far different than those of our ancestors. And physicians and nutritionists have debated the meal frequency topic for decades.
According to the American Dietetic Association, if we regularly feed the body at certain times every day, we send it signals that it does not need to store calories and therefore can better regulate our metabolism, whereas skipping meals can have an adverse effect. So they recommend three regular meals each day at approximately the same time in order to prevent excess weight gain or other metabolic dysfunctions.
But eating at a certain time every day whether you’re hungry or not is a bit like putting gas into a full tank. Not only are you wasting money, but you’re also wasting resources. And a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that regardless of whether or not participants ate three or six meals a day did not affect weight—that figure was more reliant on the total number of calories consumed.
What we do know is that stuffing ourselves is bad. We tend to do this when we haven’t eaten in a while, we eat too fast, and then we feel sluggish, bloated, uncomfortable. Yuck. Eating smaller meals may prevent us from overeating, and for some people with super fast metabolisms, it may also help regulate energy levels throughout the day. Frequent eating doesn’t mean indulging on junk snack foods or late nite Taco Bell runs. Think handful of nuts, fruits, even a small salad or smoothie to keep you charged and nourished. Find what works best for you and your body be it three or thirteen daily feedings.
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