I have argued this topic with many people over the last few years. Nearly all the diet tips tell you to eat 5-6 small meals a day to help you lose weight, yet in all my nutrition classes we learned it is often better to eat 2-3 meals a day. Who is right? Turns out…both. Sort of. It depends, kind of. How is that for being decisive?
First a key point: The body’s favorite fuel source is fat. Most people today are running off of carbohydrates (sugar) because the source is so readily available due to our overconsumption. The body can only accept about 1 teaspoon of sugar in the blood at any given time. Think about how many teaspoons you probably get in a day, then guess where all the rest of that sugar is being stored. Reducing the intake of sugar forces the body to go back to it’s favorite source for fuel…fat.
So here is the thing about why both are right. Most Americans live in a state of chronically high insulin levels which causes insulin resistance, meaning, it takes more and more insulin to bring our blood sugar back down to normal levels. This is an extremely unhealthy state that leads to fatigue, obesity, type II diabetes and a myriad of other health issues. In a healthy individual eating a nutritious diet, a meal with low to moderate carbohydrates will cause the blood sugar to spike and then return to baseline levels efficiently. A person with normal insulin function generally feels satisfied easily for 4 or more hours with one well rounded meal. That’s why from a nutritionists perspective we can say that 2-3 meals a day is plenty as long as you are meeting your nutritional and caloric needs.
The flipside is the average American who is ravenous 2 hours after eating any given meal. Their already elevated blood sugar spikes even higher with the sugars they are most likely consuming with their meal. If that individual tries to go 4 hours without a meal, their blood sugar is actually returning to that baseline level, which to their body is abnormally low, so it sends out hormones that tells that person to get some sugar quick! Which they do, usually in the form of sweetened coffees, or cookies or meal replacement bars.
Really, a compromise needs to be reached. A typical American that is working to improve their health may need to start out eating 6 small meals a day as long as they are making smart choices. This will allow insulin levels to start functioning efficiently. After a few weeks they can start removing a snack at a time until they are eating 3 square meals a day. You can, of course, try quitting cold turkey. The body won’t keel over from lack of sugar, believe me. However, this process of dealing with the hunger, irritability and fatigue can be very uncomfortable for people.
Insulin is the key hormone in fat storage, so if your goal is to lose weight, then controlling insulin is crucial. Hope that clears up the debate a little bit. At the least, I’m much more clear on it.