How often should I eat to lose weight?

by Kelly Forness on July 6, 2012 · 0 comments

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You have probably heard that in order to lose weight, you need to eat more often in order to keep your metabolism going.  Is this true?  And, if it is, how frequently do you need to eat in order to lose weight?

The evidence isn’t consistent

Many different studies have been conducted over the years, and so far, there isn’t any consistent evidence to prove that it is better to eat more often throughout the day to help with weight loss.  A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at eating frequency and its effect on adolescent females.  According to this study, a lower eating frequency caused a greater gain in adipose tissue, also known as fat.  Another study, also from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that compared intake of 3 meals to 6 meals per day in young women, found that the frequency of eating did not have any effect on weight loss.

On the other hand, a study that looked at regular meal frequency and its effect on energy intake, found that those who ate more regularly had lower energy intake and increased metabolism after eating, which could lead to weight loss.  It also was associated with lower fasting LDL cholesterol, which is the bad cholesterol.

How many calories should you eat to lose weight?

Weight loss basically occurs when calories taken in are less than calories burned, so as long as someone cuts down on what they eat, and exercises more, they will lose weight, right?  Not necessarily.  In fact, if you eat too little, you can actually slow your metabolism down, which may cause you to gain weight.  So, if meal frequency doesn’t have any effect on weight loss, what can you do to make sure you are eating right in order to lose weight?

In order to lose weight, you should make sure you are eating the right amount of calories.  Taking in too many calories can cause you to gain weight if you aren’t burning off those calories through exercise.

There is a very easy calculation that can be applied to most healthy people.

Note: You can use our BMR and daily calorie calculators to perform the calculations for you.

Most people need about 25 -30 calories/kg of body weight.  (Use 30 if you are more active.) Subtracting 250-500 calories per day should help you to lose ½-1 pound per week.  To figure out your weight in kg, divide your weight in pounds by 2.2.  For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, 150/2.2=68.1kg.  This person would need 1704-2043 calories. (68.1×25-30) In order to lose weight, this person could eat 1454 calories per day.  (1704-250= 1454)  It is not recommended to eat a very calorie restricted diet, which would be anything less than 1200 calories per day.  Also, gradual weight loss of 1-2 pounds per week is more likely to stay off than if you lose more weight than that.

Whether you are eating more frequently or not, some general tips on eating properly to help with weight loss are:

  1.  Make sure you start each day out with a well balanced breakfast.  Eating breakfast can give you energy and will help to control hunger for the rest of the day.  And breakfast isn’t a cup of coffee and a donut, even thought that is probably better than nothing.  Try to eat something with protein and carbohydrates.  The carbohydrates will give you energy, and the protein will fill you up.  An example of a well balanced breakfast is Greek yogurt with fruit and granola.
  2. Don’t skip meals.  Skipping meals can not only slow down your metabolism, but it makes you more likely to binge later in the day.  So even if you aren’t eating 6 small meals throughout the day make sure you are eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and possibly even a snack between meals.
  3. Drink plenty of water.  Sometimes when you feel hungry, it is actually because you are thirsty.  So make sure that you keep yourself hydrated by drinking at least 6-8 glasses of water per day.
  4. Eat good quality foods and avoid eating empty calories, which are foods that have very little nutritional value such as chips or candy.  These calories can add up fast.  Try to eat fruit and vegetables at all meals, and include some type of protein and whole grain at each meal.
  5. Try to do some type of physical activity every day.  This will help you to burn calories in addition to the calories that you are cutting out of your diet.

If you do decide to eat more frequently, some tips are:

  1.  Make sure you are eating smaller portions.  If you do eat more frequently, and you continue to eat meals that are the same size as if you were eating 3 meals per day, that will actually add more calories, and will likely cause weight gain.
  2. Try to include some protein and fiber with each meal.  Protein and fiber help you feel full for longer, which will prevent you from snacking in between meals.  Some examples of good snacks that include protein and fiber would be an apple with peanut butter or some whole grain crackers with cheese.

Hint: Read 50 more weight loss tips for a healthier lifestyle.

Do what works best for you

Although the evidence isn’t consistent, and it hasn’t been proven yet whether it is better to eat more frequently, there are definitely some benefits to eating more often throughout the day.  Eating more often will keep you from feeling hungry between meals.  If you are feeling hungry when you have your next meal, you are more likely to overeat, which will most likely prevent you from losing weight.  If you are eating more frequently, it may also make you feel like you are eating more than you actually are, and may make you feel more satisfied.  So, there may or may not be a benefit to eating more often, and it is up to you whether or not you feel it is better to eat more frequently.  Do what you think works best for you.

References used in this article

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Kelly Forness
About the author

Kelly is a registered Dietetic Technician. She has a Master’s degree in Exercise Science and Health Promotion and she is also a NASM certified personal trainer. You can connect with her on Google+

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