Two new research reviews out of the U.K. are making headlines for suggesting that eating smaller, more frequent meals could make you gain weight.
But this goes against many popular diet and healthy eating plans that encourage you to eat 6 small meals a day or to eat every 3 hours or so.
Are you confused yet?
I was interviewed by Matt Galloway for CBC Metro Morning today and then did 9 more live CBC radio interviews across Canada on these review papers and the importance of WHEN you eat… not just what you eat.
What the research says on meal timing, weight loss and diabetes
The researchers reviewed studies on meal timing and differences in calorie intake at meals to determine whether when you eat has an impact on obesity and metabolism.
The research they looked at suggests that eating irregularly – which means skipping meals, eating more at night, etc. – could negatively influence our circadian rhythms, our internal clocks that regulate our appetites, digestion and metabolism. The result? Possibly a higher risk of obesity, heart disease and diabetes. It also seems that eating less for breakfast and more at night is linked to being overweight.
Shift workers are at a higher risk of obesity, cancer, metabolic syndrome and heart disease.
The authors note the research is limited and we need larger studies to tease out all of the details.
Why does having regular mealtimes seem to be linked to better health?
Your body craves routine. Your body wants a steady supply of fuel and nutrients or it goes into fat preservation mode. Skipping meals leads to getting hungrier later in the day. When you let yourself get too hungry, you tend to overeat energy-dense foods for quick energy: sugar, refined carbohydrates and fat. It’s difficult to make healthy choices when you’re really hungry.
Research studies suggest that people who skip breakfast tend to eat more junk food later in the day compared to people who regularly eat breakfast. That means you’re going to be taking in more calories and fewer nutrients.
When we eat plays an important role in our health, and so does where we eat. Having meals at home more often is linked to getting more fibre and vegetables and less calories, saturated fat, sugar and salt.
Should you eat 6 small meals or 3 larger meals? What about snacking?
As the authors of these review papers say, you can’t just look at the number of meals without considering the food quality and quantity at each of those meal times. Eating more often means there are more opportunities to overeat, as people often underestimate the amounts they’re eating. It’s important to meet with a registered dietitian to help create a meal plan that works for your schedule, preferences and goals. For some people that’s 3 meals a day, for others it’s 6 small meals or more.
With my clients, I’ve seen eating smaller more frequent meals work for both weight loss and weight gain. It’s the types of foods and the amounts that I change to meet their goals. Nutrition is so individual!
What is “social jetlag”?
Social jetlag is having one sleep schedule for workdays and another one for weekends or non-work days. Just like international travel, this irregular sleep pattern messes with our internal clocks, increasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease.
As a society, we’re tired all the time because we’re working and eating without following our internal body clocks. Instead we’re following an arbitrary social clock. This means we get less sleep which puts us at higher risk of weight gain and metabolic syndrome.
How do I find time in my day to schedule, prepare and eat healthy meals?
Prepare meals and snacks ahead of time. Find a couple of hours a week to do meal prep: bake chicken breasts, cook whole grains and beans, chop up veggies and fruit, and portion them into containers so you have healthy options on the go. Keep unsalted nuts and seeds in your briefcase, bag, car, etc. so you always have a healthier option.
If you aren’t a breakfast person, smoothies are a great way to have something quick and portable that you can pack with healthy ingredients like yogurt, nut butter, chia seeds, fruit and leafy greens. Try my Blueberry Turmeric Smoothie, Celery Apple Almond Smoothie or Superfood Smoothie Bowl to get the energy and nutrients to start your day off right!