When did eating three square meals a day become outdated? When dieters and athletes learned that eating more frequently (4 to 6 mini-meals a day) could help manage weight, general health, and all-day energy levels better. It still comes down to calories in, calories out. The idea is not to eat more than you would in a typical 3-meals-a-day plan, but to redistribute those calories over the course of your day. Eat every 3 to 4 hours and include a variety of foods for balance. If you keep your body evenly fueled throughout the day, you can curb your appetite and perhaps eat fewer calories overall.
Good Reasons to Consider It
Research shows correlations between eating more frequent, smaller meals and improvements in health. Here are some of the potential benefits:
- Protect yourself from heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Rev up or stabilize your metabolism — 24/7
- Keep from overeating, binging, or eating too fast
- Sustain energy and blood sugar levels
- Lower your overall cholesterol and LDL ("bad" cholesterol)
- Maintain or lose weight
- Use aerobic exercise to burn fat at a faster rate
- Promote better food absorption and prevent heartburn
Tips for Success
Now that you have a general idea about how eating mini-meals works in your favor, here are some tips on how to make it work for you.
- Eat smart. Avoid high-sugar foods that give you temporary energy bursts, but leave you more tired, irritable, and hungry in the long run. Roughage (or fiber-rich foods) and protein are nature’s appetite suppressants and will last longer between meals.
- Balance your mini-meals. Each meal should ideally have some carbohydrate and some lean protein. Include moderation, variety, and taste.
- Think simple meals. A serving of fruit or vegetable, a small baked potato, a cup of yogurt, or a meal-replacement shake.
- Plan ahead. Buy groceries for an entire week and prepare/pre-portion items for quick and easy eating. Jot down menu ideas to chart out what you plan to eat.
- Read labels. Make sure you understand what constitutes one portion and the calorie count for that amount. To gauge the number of calories in individual foods, visit the USDA’s online calorie and nutrition database at www.ars.usda.gov/ba/bhnrc/ndl.