Intermittent Fasting or 6 meals a day. How often should I eat?

Just like all the conflicting information on what to eat, there is also the issue of when to eat or how often. Just like different diets work for different people, eating schedules are a personal choice and a matter of what works for each individual. Also, some schedules are easier to follow on certain diets. For example, a grain free diet will make it easier to stick to intermittent fasting since your insulin will be balanced throughout the day, while a 3 to 6-meals-a-day protocol will probably work best for someone who eats grains and legumes.

At the same time, when deciding to give a new feeding schedule a try – check with your doctor – and either do it gradually or give it some time so your body gets used to it and you can really see if it helps or not. You wouldn’t go from 6 meals a day to 1 for example. You would likely be starving all day, suffer from headaches, get cranky and most likely affect your hormones if you’re female.

I will explain a few of the most popular eating schedules, what the pros and cons seem to be and how you can transition through them if you wish to give them a try.

5-6 Snack Sized Meals Throughout The Day

In this approach, as the subtitle states, you eat several small meals per day. Preferably one every 3 to 4 hours. Usually, a small breakfast, a light lunch and light dinner with snacks in between and maybe another snack a couple of hours after dinner.

It was claimed for a time that doing this would boost your metabolism, making you burn more calories. However, studies haven’t found a difference in weight loss or metabolic rate between eating the same amount of calories spread out in 3 meals or 6.

I have used this approach and it worked well for me when going from a regular American Diet to a healthier one. I loved eating and could do it all day, so it was an easy way to just change what I ate while still being able to nibble all day. Especially considering how much smaller my portions were.

Pros:

  • It is a good way to incorporate smaller portions into your diet.
  • It’s a good way to only eat healthy foods without feeling restricted since you can basically eat all day.
  • It keeps you from feeling hungry while your body adjusts to smaller portions.
  • It’s great for those who enjoy snacking on a variety of foods throughout the day.

Cons:

  • It is easy to choose the wrong foods because “the portions are small anyway”
  • It is easy to lose track of what “small” really is, or should be.
  • It is easy to eat more than your body needs. Whether you count them or not, the calories do add up.
  • Eating this often will make you feel hungry more often, so if you can’t have a snack for any reason, you will feel like you’re starving until you can eat again.
  • You must plan ahead and carry snacks all the time. This can be annoying and expensive.

Good for:

  • It’s best for new dieters who are transitioning from a regular western diet to a whole food diet.
  • It works well for vegans and vegetarians who eat grains and legumes and need to make sure to consume all their needed nutrients and minerals.
  • Those omnivores who choose to eat grains and legumes can also benefit from this schedule..
  • People who consume grains and legumes may have insulin spikes which make you feel hungry more often, which is why this approach would work well for them.

3 meals a day. No snacking.

The traditional eating schedule. “Breakfast is important” so you can’t skip it. (I’ll explain the quotation marks later). You’ll be hungry mid-day, so you gotta eat lunch. And of course, dinner time is a time to unwind, feast and spend time with friends or family. Or just enjoy a good dinner quietly and peacefully at home. Again, no difference has been found between this schedule and 6 meals a day in weight loss if eating the same amount of calories. It will also not slow down your metabolism to eat only 3 times as opposed to 5 or 6. If you have time to prepare and eat all three meals and are comfortable with that, there is no reason for you to change that. If you want weight loss, look at what you are eating and how much of it to make a difference.

Pros:

  • Most people have the same eating schedule, or you will at least match some meal times with others so you can join friends or family at meal times without feeling weird.
  • You probably have been following this schedule your whole life so it’s easy to follow.
  • You won’t be hungry every 3 hours.
  • Making sure you don’t snack helps avoid sneaky extra calories.

Cons:

  • If you have a High Glycemic meal, you may feel extra hungry by the time your next meal comes around which may make it easy to overeat at that time.
  • Depending on your schedule, you may not have time to prepare/eat breakfast and lunch every day.

Good for:

Anybody really! This is the typical schedule for a reason. It is easy to follow and keeps us feeling content all day. As long as you’re eating the right foods in the right amounts, there is no reason to eat any more frequently.

Don’t eat after 8pm.

Unless you’re going to sleep at 10 pm, this doesn’t make a difference at all. You shouldn’t eat less than 2 hours before going to sleep because you need to let your body digest before going to sleep. Digesting while sleeping leads to less restful sleep and some people even get heartburn (though they may not realize that’s the reason).

So, no matter your schedule, don’t eat less than 2 hours before bed. Not for weight loss, but for better sleep and overall health.

Intermittent Fasting

This eating pattern basically means skipping certain meals. There are a few different approaches to IF. Some of them are eating only during a small time frame every day, or fasting for a full 24 hours a couple of times a week. In the first approach, you go without eating for about 16 hours – half of which will be spent sleeping – and then only eat within an 8 hour window. Some people only eat during a 4 or 6 hour window, but I think the 16/8 ratio is much easier to maintain. Your eating window can be whenever it works best for you. From noon to 8pm, from 9 to 5, etcetera… Eating this way allows your body to use stored energy (fat) as fuel and not the food you just ate. Also, by eliminating a meal (or two) you will be consuming fewer calories overall. Because you will be burning your stores for energy, the food you do eat during your feeding window, will be used to replenish and rebuild instead of being stored as fat. Remember though, as with the other approaches, the type of foods you are eating will have an impact on how you feel, weight loss you experience and overall health improvements. A study found reduced blood sugar and liver fat among men and women during a 48 hour fast, though the positive effects on women started to diminish – slightly – after 24 hours. So, just in case, I wouldn’t recommend fasting for more than 24 hours for women. However, this study shows that our metabolism doesn’t slow down when in a fasted state as previously thought. In fact, we seem to process sugars and fats better. So as you see, breakfast is not that important, nor is eating a million times a day.

Pros:

  • You will consume fewer calories overall during the week/month/year so you will absolutely see weight loss.
  • Your insulin sensitivity will improve
  • You won’t be hungry often.
  • You don’t have to make time to prepare and eat a bunch of meals
  • You don’t have to make sure you have snacks on you at all times
  • The timing is flexible. You can choose your feeding window depending on your work schedule or lifestyle. You don’t have to eat breakfast or dinner, you choose when you want to eat.
  • It is much easier to plan your meals since you’re only eating once or twice.
  • You’re eating less so it’s cheaper!

Cons:

  • Going from 6 – or even 3 – meals a day to intermittent fasting can take some time to get used to. You will be hungry for the first few days.
  • If you eat grains and other high glycemic foods you may get very hungry before your eating time and you may also feel drained and low energy. This is due to insulin spikes and your body’s tendency to burn carbohydrates instead of stored fat as fuel.
  • Some women claim experiencing hormonal issues. Though I believe eating the right balance of foods, gradually making the transition and not going over 18 hours fasting will help reduce the chance of that happening. (This is based on my experience. I’ve had hormonal imbalances before and they were actually improved by IF).
  • It’ll be weird to go out on brunch dates and such with friends or colleagues since you won’t be eating. Just order a calorie free beverage and enjoy your time with them. (Or break the fast that day, it’s not a big deal).

Good for:

  • This approach probably would work better for people avoiding grains and high glycemic foods as the hunger and fatigue may be uncomfortable or even cause dizziness and the like if your diet is high in them.
  • People who are too busy to eat 3 – 6 meals a day.
  • People who want to lose weight but aren’t fans of snacking.
  • Those wanting to burn fat and build muscle.

Making the transition

If you are currently a snacker,

  1. I recommend going down to 3 meals a day first. Eliminate your snacks and eat a lighter version of the meal(s) you are planning to get rid of.
  2. Do that for at least 4 days, or until you’re used to it. Meaning, you’re not starving by the next meal.
  3. Then, transition into skipping the meals altogether. Again, be patient while your body adjusts to the change.

If you only eat 3 meals a day

  1. start by lightening up the meal or meals you are planning to get rid of as above. Then follow steps 2 and 3.

If you already only eat 1 or 2 meals a day

If you already eat this way and can’t seem to lose fat weight and gain muscle, then you need to explore what you’re eating and how much. Even though you are only eating 1 or 2 meals, the portions shouldn’t be oversized. Also, eating too few vegetables and too many processed foods or grains and sugars won’t allow this – or any – approach to work for you. I would recommend getting rid of grains and sugars and processed foods and then see what happens! 😉

Like I mentioned before, you will be hungry during the first few days of not eating breakfast or whichever meal you skip. You’ll be fine, just drink some water, (black) coffee or (unsweetened) tea. Your body is just telling you it’s the time you usually eat at. You trained it that way. You can train it to only eat during a small time frame.

Remember these are guidelines and based on my studies and experiences. I am not a doctor and you should see a physician before making any drastic changes to your diet, especially if you have any specific health conditions.

What do you think? Have you tried any of these? Do you love it? Hate it? Let me know in the comments below!

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2 comments

    • That’s great! When I had a more active job, that’s all I needed to do as well!
      Now that I have a desk job and several work-from-home jobs though, I’ve had to make some modifications in order to feel the way I like to feel. (And fit in my clothes the way I like to fit! Haha).

      Like

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