The Benefits of Having
5 or 6 Small Meals a Day

It is a common belief that having 5 or 6 small meals a day will make people gain weight! This is actually true if you eat the wrong foods, eat too much food, or if you simply eat for the sake of eating and not because your body actually needs it! i.e. your metabolism isn't fast enough.

However, the fact is, having small, regular meals may actually help you lose weight! In this article we will cover why having small meals regularly is one of the best strategies you can employ if you're serious about losing weight and keeping it off long term.

6 Small Meals a Day

The research tends to be quite mixed when it comes to meal frequency and weight loss. Therefore, it is something that needs to be qualified before broad generalisations can be made. I have covered this in another article titled, 'Is Eating 5 or 6 Small Meals a Day Better For Fat Loss Compared to 3 Meals?'

If you eat small meals every few hours during the day it means that your body will receive a continuous supply of amino acids, which it can then use to maintain and build body tissue. The small, regular meals also ensure a constant supply of energy to your body, which means it can function at optimum levels.

However, it is imperative that the foods you eat are whole foods, are not cooked in oil or covered in rich sauces, and ideally have been prepared by you. Also, it is important to use your appetite as a gauge as to whether or not you should actually be having a meal/ snack at that time. If you're not hungry, don't eat! However, if you feel a little peckish then have something small to help curb your appetite and avoid over-eating at your next meal time.

Small, Regular Meals

A major benefit of having 5 or 6 meals a day is that feelings of hunger will also be dramatically reduced. If people want to know how to stop sugar cravings fast, I usually tell them to follow this principle before doing anything else! It works amazingly well.

Likewise, the tendency to over-eat at each meal is diminished when people have snacks in between their main meals. As a general rule, having 3 or fewer meals each day increases the likelihood of over-eating because of the large gap between meals. This is particularly noticeable if people skip their mid-morning or mid-afternoon snacks/ meals. Conversely, people who tend to 'graze', that is eat small meals throughout the day, feel satisfied for longer.

The majority of people eat 3 meals a day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. The problem with this is the fact that there is a large gap between each meal. This gap between meals (which may be up to 5 or 6 hours) means that their blood sugar level is likely to fall, resulting in the body invoking the 'Anti-Starvation Response'. I'll explain this later.

Before we continue, I will give you my definition of what a meal is. A meal is a combination of foods that provides all 3 macronutrients to your body; carbohydrate, protein and fat. A meal may be a piece of fruit with a small handful of nuts; it could be a protein shake, or it may even be a time of tuna on 2 rice cakes. If you have a piece of fruit on its own it is not considered a meal because it only provides you with carbohydrate; it doesn't contain any protein or fat.

When people hear the word, 'meal', they automatically think of a standard 'meat and 3 veg' meal. This may be one of the reasons people think that they can't have 5 or 6 small meals a day, since they assume that they have to sit down at a table with knife and fork in hand!

Nevertheless, once you understand what constitutes a meal, it is easy to see how you can easily fit 5 or 6 small meals a day into your busy lifestyle. NOTE: I tend to use the terms 'meal' or 'snack' interchangeably.

Here is a summary of the (apparent) benefits
of having 5 or 6 meals a day:

Speeds up your metabolism

If you eat small meals regularly throughout the day your body is constantly being supplied with energy, which means all of your body cells can function at optimum levels. Also, you body has to continually digest and absorb the nutrients from food, which means that your body has to expend more calories. Therefore, it is theorised that your metabolism will speed up (however, this is yet to be proven).

Consuming food speeds up your metabolism because it requires digestion. That is why breakfast is such an important meal - it gives your metabolism a 'kick-start'. If you miss eating breakfast, then your metabolism will remain low and your body's ability to burn fat will also stay low until your first meal.

Small, frequent meals also mean that blood sugar levels remain relatively constant throughout the day. This means that your body's metabolism doesn't have to slow down in order to accommodate the drop in blood sugar.

Eat Small Meals

Helps maintain a positive nitrogen balance

Nitrogen balance is a poorly understood metabolic process. It is the difference between how much nitrogen is lost (through urine and sweat) and how much nitrogen (from amino acids) is gained from food. It indicates whether the body is building up body tissue, resulting from a positive nitrogen balance or breaking down body tissue due to a negative nitrogen balance.

By staying in a positive nitrogen balance as often as possible, you will be able to keep your metabolism elevated because all your body cells will be functioning optimally and because you will be maintaining your muscle mass. This means that burning off body fat will be much easier.

Eating only three meals (or less) a day means that at some times during the day your body will be in a negative nitrogen balance because of the gap between meals. Even if you eat protein at each of these meals a negative nitrogen balance is still likely to occur. If you have 5 or 6 small meals a day, this may be avoided.

Reduces feelings of hunger

Many people want to know how they can reduce feelings of hunger and avoid cravings for sugar. The best way to do this is by having a constant supply of glucose to the brain. This can be achieved if you have the 5 or 6 small meals a day and ensure that the glucose flows into the blood stream slowly as well.

Give you a sustained energy level

5 or 6 small meals a day provides your body with a constant supply of glucose, which can help to sustain your energy level. This is different to having three meals a day, whereas your blood sugar levels will tend to fluctuate much more throughout the day, affecting your energy.

Reduces the likelihood of food being stored as fat

Since having 5 or 6 small meals a day keeps your blood sugar levels fairly stable, insulin levels remain low. Less insulin release from the pancreas means there is less chance that the food being consumed in a meal will be stored as body fat.

Increase the mobilisation of fat from your fat stores

Your body has a greater tendency to mobilise fat from your existing fat stores if you consume small meals. This is primarily due to the fact that insulin levels are low. Low levels of insulin (a fat-storing hormone) in the blood means that more fat can be mobilised from the body's fat stores.

If you have large, less frequent meals then greater amounts of insulin will be secreted from the pancreas resulting in a greater likelihood that the food consumed will be stored as fat.

In summary, if you want to get the best possible results from your weight-loss efforts then become a grazer, eat small meals often and then watch the fat burn off your body! Consuming 5 or 6 small meals a day has been a standard recommendation in the fitness industry for years even though science has yet to catch up with it! Use it, and prepare to be amazed at the results you can achieve!

Here's Will Brink explaining the meal frequency issue in even more detail:

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