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3 Meals vs. 6 Meals — What’s Best?

Wow, last the blog suggesting "stop thinking" to truly transform your body really peaked the interest of a lot…over 120 "likes" on FB and a handful of comments.  Glad it struck a nerve.

It’s time to bring up another hot topic in the world of nutrition.

How many meals to eat for the BEST results.

There’s a general consensus that eating smaller, more frequent meals is best for fat loss and general health.

You’ll be more full.

You’ll better control your blood sugar.

You’ll better control your hormones.

And, at the end of the day, this means you’ll lose more fat and keep your muscle.

But it is TRULY that simple?  If you eat the same number of calories spread out through multiple meals vs. eating just a few meals/day that magic bullet for fat loss?OK

This question was part of my PhD dissertation … and now more current research has looked at this same thing.

A friend from the University of Missouri — Dr. Heather Leidy — published her research in the journal, Obesity, asking this very question.  And Heather is no stuffy lab scientist who barely knows how to spell the word exercise.  She IS a smart scientist, but feels right at home in the gym training as well.

So let’s quickly look at her publication. 

3 meals.  6 meals.  What’s best?

In this small study of just 27 overweight or obese men, subjects were assigned to "high" protein diets (25% of their calories) or regular protein diets (14% of their total calories).  Then, they were also divided into 3 meals/day (~5 hours apart) or 6 meals per day (2-3 hours apart).

The higher protein group DID report being more full throughout the day, in the evening, and later at night.  This isn’t surprising as there’s no doubt protein is more filing than either carbohydrate or protein. 

But, interestingly, the group randomly assigned to eat just 3 meals per day reported feeling more full than the group eating 6 meals/day

Hmmm, this is interesting.  For years and years, lay audiences, magazines, etc have suggested smaller, more frequent meals is the BEST approach.  Now Dr. Leidy’s research suggests otherwise.  Maybe the smaller, more frequent feedings is more than it’s cracked up to be.

What do you think — leave a comment on the blog?  Here are our thoughts…

Mohr Results Bottom Line:  There is actually very little data on this topic as a whole.  Eating smaller, more frequent meals isn’t always feasible for people who are at the office or have less "freedom" throughout the day to make smart food choices.  We do encourage the use of great snacks — like raw nuts and fruit, for example — but the overall diet quality seems to be the biggest issue more so than the frequency of eating as a whole.

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16 Responses to 3 Meals vs. 6 Meals — What’s Best?

  1. Chris November 11, 2010 at 3:15 pm #

    Actually there has been research stating that the TEM will be greater with larger meals.

  2. Trevor November 12, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    Even if 6 meals makes no real, observable difference in fat loss, it definitely has a subjective benefit for me: Reminding myself that my next meal is only about 2 hours away does wonders in helping me control cravings and prevent cheating.

  3. Keith November 20, 2010 at 7:14 pm #

    I have both of LL Cool J’s books and have been following the 6 meal rule since August 23. I am down 23.5 pounds, my Cholesterol is down 21 points (without medication) and I have logged in 90 miles of running since Oct 1. I am still heavy (235), but my body fat percentage has decreased by 8%. I did follow everything about the diet (lean meat, fish, etc). The six meals works for me…aside from my own desire to over-train, at 47 the diet changes to six has literally given me a new life.

    • Chris and Kara Mohr November 20, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

      Congratulations on your success — keep up the great work!

  4. Miriam October 21, 2011 at 12:54 pm #

    Interesting topic. Not sure any questions were answered. Which group lost more weight? And it’s important to emphasize to avoid eating fewer than 2 or 3 balanced meals per day. Many of my clients lost weight simply from going from 1 large meal to 3 medium sized meals… And they report feeling hungrier than they were before. But… Just in time for their next meal.

  5. Halli Magg October 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm #

    What was the results for fat and weight loss?
    And just out of curiosity, did they measure blood markers for blood sugar control?
    Thanks
    Halli Magg
    Osteopath

    • Chris and Kara Mohr October 22, 2011 at 7:59 am #

      Great question — I’m actually going to do an interview with the author of the study because there are a ton of questions!

  6. Heidi October 21, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

    I’m wondering if the results might be different for different people. Seems like it’s tough to find a one-size-fits-all approach to anything weight loss or nutrition and fitness related. What works for one person might not work for another, which is why I think it’s good to know the pros and cons of both and then find something that works for you. Personally, I’d probably go with 4 small meals and a mid afternoon snack, but that’s just me. :-) HH

  7. Heidi October 21, 2011 at 2:18 pm #

    I’m wondering if the results might be different for different people. Seems like it’s tough to find a one-size-fits-all approach to anything weight loss or nutrition and fitness related. What works for one person might not work for another, which is why I think it’s good to know the pros and cons of both and then find something that works for you. Personally, I would probably go with 4 small meals and a mid afternoon snack, but that’s just me. :-) HH

  8. kaye October 21, 2011 at 3:54 pm #

    I think it is very individual. There are some top names in the health and fitness industry who line up on either side of this issue. I have tried various diets, meal plans, etc. As an over-eater, the only thing that has helped me manage my hunger and loose weight is the 6 small meals a day. 3 meals a day leaves me hungry and feeling like a failure. It could be psychological but I can control cravings knowing that I will be eating again in 3 hours. This is has been key for me.

  9. Rob October 22, 2011 at 2:50 am #

    I’d agree that the overall quality of diet is more important than the frequency. Sensible portion sizes and the right levels of activity will often mean you require more than 3 meals in one day, even for healthy weight loss/fat reduction.
    There are too many holes in the study too draw any decisive conclusions.

  10. jerry October 24, 2011 at 7:48 am #

    My guess is the meals were quality nutrition, not just calories. The 6 meals approach doesn’t give the digestive system much rest. I also think you need to give your taste buds a rest. When you’re hungry, food tastes better. Our diet has become so filled with “natural seasoning” and other excito toxins we hardly know what a good piece of fish or vegetable tastes like. Use some herbs de provence, Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Use olive oil and lemon and balsamic vinegar. Use fresh tomatos and garlic, basil and Italian parsley. Prepare your own food and use a little judgement when eating out.

  11. jerry October 24, 2011 at 7:49 am #

    My guess is the meals were quality nutrition, not just calories. The 6 meals approach doesn’t give the digestive system much rest. I also think you need to give your taste buds a rest. When you’re hungry, food tastes better. Our diet has become so filled with "natural seasoning" and other excito toxins we hardly know what a good piece of fish or vegetable tastes like. Use some herbs de provence, Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper. Use olive oil and lemon and balsamic vinegar. Use fresh tomatos and garlic, basil and Italian parsley. Prepare your own food and use a little judgement when eating out.

  12. Nancy January 18, 2012 at 7:13 am #

    I tried eating more often, but it seems to make me more obsessive about food. I am always thinking about it and when I can eat next and what I will eat. I work in an office and eating every 2-3 hours is just not practical. Having a couple of snacks like an energy bar or a handful of nuts is more practical.

  13. Titus Morton April 20, 2012 at 8:39 am #

    Of course we are hungrier. Duh! We eat every 2-3 hours so our bodies get acquainted and is trained to be hungry every 2-3 hours. Unlike those jokers who get more calories in at their last sit-in. Their body is still digesting that food.

  14. Melinda Kapinos May 3, 2012 at 12:12 am #

    Love the app! It is working great as I attempt to reach my fitness goal before my wedding in October. I would love to see a more extensive food database to pull from. I’ve had to download other apps just to find nutrition facts and then enter them in Noom. Perhaps also a few more exercise categories as to which type of exercise you are doing. I enjoy the app and look forward to my results

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