Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN
American Institute for Cancer Research
Q: Is it easier to lose weight and keep it off by sticking to three meals a day or by grazing on more frequent mini-meals?
A: You’ve probably heard that eating smaller amounts more often might boost metabolism, and by keeping you from getting hungry, might make it easier to cut calories, providing two-fold benefits to make weight loss easier. However, we don’t actually have studies that clearly support such claims. Good quality research on this question is lacking; most studies tend to be small and short-term. One statistical analysis of available studies found no association between eating frequency and weight loss or maintenance. A review of studies focused on appetite and calorie consumption found no overall daily differences between eating three meals a day or more often. A few studies link eating four or five times a day with less likelihood of obesity than eating more or less often, although this beneficial effect seems more apparent among men than women. Here’s what is critical for both weight and overall health: What you choose to eat and your portion sizes. A snack or mini-meal can provide an opportunity to include healthful foods you haven’t worked in to other meals, help you avoid getting over-hungry and fuel physical activity occurring long after the previous meal. Eating more frequently could also mean more snacking on unhealthy choices, with less attention to a balanced selection of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and beans or other healthy sources of protein. Experiment to see what eating frequency works for you, keeping you from getting so hungry that you overeat, while providing opportunities for an overall healthful pattern of food choices.
The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is the cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. It has contributed more than $95 million for innovative research conducted at universities, hospitals and research centers across the country. AICR has published two landmark reports that interpret the accumulated research in the field, and is committed to a process of continuous review. AICR also provides a wide range of educational programs to help millions of Americans learn to make dietary changes for lower cancer risk. Its award-winning New American Plate program is presented in brochures, seminars and on its website, www.aicr.org. AICR is a member of the World Cancer Research Fund International..