July 14, 2015

5 Meals vs. 3 Meals a Day

It boils down to natural cues when deciding how often to eat.

Rewind to 2006, when diet coach and best-selling author Jorge Cruise’s The 3-Hour Diet hit bookshelves and the Internet and became an overnight sensation, soothing countless people who stumbled whenever they tried to lose weight, by offering a new diet option. The book created a stir, suggesting the key to a slimmer physique was about the timing of mini-meals throughout the day: Eat breakfast within the first hour of rising and every three hours, stopping three hours before bedtime.

People hungry to trim down adopted Cruise’s method, striving to eat smaller scheduled meals — with the right foods and correct portions — forgoing the conventional school of thought subscribing to three meals a day.

For many, consistently feeding the body — which helps stabilize blood sugar levels and in turn, suppresses appetite — worked like a charm. For others, though, the five or six daily meals theory backfired, leaving them frustrated by a graze-all-day mentality resulting in weight gain instead of loss.

Now experts on both sides are weighing in about the pros and cons of consuming five to six small meals vs. the traditional three meals-a-day. Although there is no consensus about the metabolic benefits of eating either way, a new approach is emerging: Listen to your body’s natural cues. While some individuals may be able to control their weight and feel energized by eating more frequently, others may fail, tending to overeat or substitute junk food for good body fuel.

Here are six tricks to help employees understand that the bottom line to successful weight loss is dependent upon their own personal signals — and actions.

Eat when hungry. Sounds simple, right? But beware — there’s a fine line between hunger and being ravenous, which can lead to overeating. Be honest: Am I really hungry? Does my stomach feel empty? When was the last time I ate? Ask the same question in 20 minutes as the litmus test for whether or not you need to eat.

Snack or attack. Once the issue of hunger is resolved, determine if a healthy snack — such as a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts — could satisfy a growling tummy until the next meal.

Stopwatch. Whether it’s a snack, mini-meal or regular meal, stop eating when comfortable — not when full.

Choose wisely. Regardless of the size of the meal — snack, mini or full — choose healthy foods and observe portion control.

Journal. Keep a log of what you eat, and when, for a week or two. Review and determine what your true hunger threshold is — and then customize an eating schedule to fit your needs.

Exercise. When it comes to losing weight, exercise is an integral part to any program. Move, sweat, feel the burn — it’s all part of a healthy lifestyle that includes making wise food choices when you’re hungry.

Resource Corner

Never has the adage “watch what you eat” been truer. In the age of the smartphone, apps abound for keeping track of everything from footsteps to sleeping patterns to calories. When it comes to tracking daily consumption and keeping focused on goals, try Calorie Counter Pro from MyNetDiary (iTunes, $3.99). For those craving instant feedback from social media communities, the $1.99 investment for the iOS and Android app Eatly may be a good decision: It’s a visual companion when it comes to recognizing healthy and unhealthy foods, displaying photos of meals and ratings by app users.


This article was researched and written by health and workplace wellness writer Kimberly Winter Stern, who writes health-related content for a national healthcare system, major daily newspapers, and local and regional magazines, as well as culinary stories for The Kansas City Star. She is also the host of a food-related radio show.