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  • Writer's pictureScott Pettey

How Many Meals Should You Eat?

Updated: Oct 18, 2022

I’m sure you’ve heard it before— “breakfast is the most important meal of the day!”, “don’t eat ‘x’ amount of time before bed!”, “intermittent fasting is the only way to lose weight!”—and on and on. We get tricked into thinking the key to weight loss and health is having a specific number or timing of meals. The truth is, nutrient timing matters very little to the overall success of your diet. Where nutrient timing has more serious implications is on diet adherence.

A specific nutrient timing strategy—how often you eat and how you space out your meals—should be judged on whether it fits your personal preferences, lifestyle, and goals. Your time and effort is much better spent focusing on the diet priorities that really move the needle—calorie balance and food composition. Let’s look at two examples where obsessing over a particular nutrient timing strategy could derail your diet.

Imagine—you’re led to believe the only way to lose weight is to fast until 2pm, but you’re the type of person who’s most hungry in the morning. What happens? The stress and anxiety of having to go hungry in the morning leads to overeating calories at lunch and dinner because you’re ravenously hungry—resulting in, you guessed it, no weight loss.

The same could be said for the opposite scenario. You’re led to believe “breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” but you’re the type of person who’s typically not hungry in the morning. Why force feed yourself in the morning—spending a huge chunk of your daily calories—only to realize every night around 8pm you’re starving? A better strategy might be to have a very light breakfast and save some of those calories for a time when you know you’re most hungry.

As long as a specific nutrient timing strategy fits your lifestyle, preferences, and goals it’s a good strategy for you. However, if you want some basic guidelines, most people would benefit from three to six meals spread relatively evenly throughout the day for a few reasons:

  • Spacing your meals evenly provides more sustained energy throughout the day

  • Spacing your meals evenly ensures a steady stream of protein in your blood throughout the day to maintain your muscle mass

  • Spacing your meals evenly helps with hunger management because there’s less time between meals

  • Spacing your meals evenly can increase diet adherence because you spend less time feeling hungry

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