How Many Meals Should You Eat A Day to Lose Weight? Six or Less?

By Kyle Milligan / April 3, 2017
How Many Meals Should You Eat A Day to Lose Weight

If you're anything like me, you hate being hungry. Among my biggest diet peeves, behind people who blindly gorge on "healthy fats," is when someone tries to schedule out six meals a day for weight loss. I hate the six small meals a day diet plan. I've tried it and it sucked. While eating many small meals a day I never experienced the sensation of being full, ever. I was hungry every second I was awake. Again, if you're anything like me, you hate being hungry. Furthermore, scheduling that many meals "every three hours" or whatever, is just a pain.​

I'm vaguely aware of this small meal planning as being one of those contagious, airborne types of fitness "knowledge" that everyone somehow just knows and believes. Like "high reps, low weight to cut up, bro." The idea is that six meals a day keeps your metabolism humming, and thus encourages weight loss via excess calorie burn. I don't know how everyone comes to discover these things, they just pick it up somewhere. And with zero investigation, they believe it like gospel. It's like the six meals a day myth is stained into the fabric of our collective unconscious. Most frustrating, it's unfounded!

Six Meals A Day Plan - Where's The Support?

That's right. There is little to no scientific evidence to support this nuisance that is the six meals a day diet. 

Many small meals for weight loss is not supported in this study, which showed that "increasing meal frequency from three to six per day has no significant effect on 24-h fat oxidation, but may increase hunger and the desire to eat." Sooo, no fat-burning benefits and INCREASED hunger?

Yeah, that sounds like my experience with six meals a day diet plan...

​This meta-analysis came back inconclusive on meal frequency. In their analysis of the data they found the positive findings of higher meal frequency were the product of just one study, "casting doubt as to whether more frequent meals confer beneficial effects on body composition." (A meta-analysis is a bunch of similar studies pooled together to analyze the results as a whole. Like one big study.) 

This study that appeared May 2015 of Nutrition Research is the closest thing I've found to support for the 6 meals a day theory and revealed this:

"Body mass was successfully lost (P ≤ .05) under both feeding regimens (2 MF: -2.8 ± 1.5 vs 6 MF: -1.9 ± 1.5 kg)"​

What that means in English...

So in two weeks, both test groups lost weight. People eating only 2 meals a day lost about 6.2 lbs on average, give or take 3.3 lbs​. People eating 6 meals a day lost 4.2 lbs on average, give or take 3.3 lbs. The study went on to conclude...

"Overall, reductions in MF (2 MF) were associated with improved HDL-C levels; but the clinical significance is not clear. Alternatively, increased MF (6 MF) did appear to favorably preserve FFM during weight loss."

So what the hell does that mean? 

"Reductions in MF" means reductions in Meal Frequency. The people who had 2 large meals a day had improved HDL-C.  So what is this improved HDL-C?

HDL-C refers to "high-density lipoprotein cholesterol" also known as the "good cholesterol." This is the cholesterol that removes harmful bad cholesterol from where it doesn't belong. Having high HDL levels is associated with lower risk for heart disease. So with TWO meals a day you actually have healthier levels of HDL-C. Cool. 

However, increased MF (six meals a day) did appear to favorably preserve FFM, which stands for fat free mass. What kind of mass do we have that is "fat free?" Lean mass, i.e. muscle. 

So that means when you eat more it preserves muscle mass better. Oh but I've already covered this in my 3 Step Strategy to shredding fat and building muscle. When you fast, your body must burn its energy reserves, encouraging weight loss. The side effect of fasting is that it jeopardizes your lean muscle mass. That's why I recommend you supplement BCAAs when cutting and fasted training to get the good effects of fasting, while protecting your lean muscle mass. 

How Many Meals Should You Eat A Day To Lose Weight

I like this question because I love how awesome the answer is. How many meals should you eat a day to lose weight? IT DOESN'T MATTER.

But Kyle! You just said six small meals a day wasn't the best way? So how does it not matter? Well, I can explain how many meals I eat a day and you might have a better idea of what I mean.

 In my guide How to Get Abs in 28 Days Without Doing Any Cardio​, I recalled a story of how my Granny took one look at my heaping plate of chicken, broccoli, eggs, and rice, and told me I would NEVER lose weight EATING ALL THAT FOOD.  Well I don't really structure out my meals like most people. I simply track my macros, which you can read about in this free pdf. It just so happens that I usually have three whopping meals a day.

few large meals chicken and rice

Anyone on a cutting diet plan knows it's all about the chicken, rice, and veggies...

That's because weight loss only comes down to just TWO factors. The number of calories you consume, and the number of calories you burn. And frankly, that is it. A diet is just a way of reducing the calories you consume and exercise is just a way to burn more calories. You can tinker with both to try and shred JUST fat and also BUILD muscle at the same time, but those are details. Only two things really matter: Calories in, and calories out. 

I know I can have about 1,800 calories a day. And I also know I hate going to bed hungry. Therefore, I usually hold off on my first meal of the day until after working out. I like fasted training. It makes sense logically and is supported by science as the best way to burn fat. Also, it allows me to conserve my calories and macros for later in the day, so that I can have the kind of few, large meals that actually make feel satiated and happy. 

How Many Hours Between Meals? A Few Good Meals

There is one final strategy I want to share briefly, and that is intermittent fasting. I don't want to talk too much about it here because I have planned on writing something fairly involved on intermittent fasting diet plans. But the gist is this: you only eat at certain periods of the day, then you stop, or fast. Ideally, when intermittent fasting you fast for 16 hours of the day and eat during an 8 hour window. So for instance your window begins at 10am and 8 hours later at 6pm you're done eating for the day and you fast. You can still have water and other low-cal / zero calorie items. i.e. Black tea, green tea, BCAAs. And you still track macros. Intermittent fasting diet plans isn't a license to go nuts for eight hours. You just make sure to consume all your calories in that eight hour window. ​

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it isn't meal frequency that matters so much as total calories consumed and the composition of your macros. Everybody is a little different. I can only speak for my personal experience with how many meals a day that helps me lose weight. My biggest beef (no pun intended) with the six meals a day diet plan is that it leaves me hungry all day long.  Eating several 300 calorie meals is never going to make me happy. 

Alternatively, when I down about 450 calories post workout, I'm not in a huge rush for another 450 later. And then I can down a big 900 calorie meal finale, and stay content for the rest of the night. And then of course I don't really have to plan my ENTIRE day around my next meal. When you are planning for six meals, you basically can't leave your house without a bunch of tupperware.

P.S. If you haven't already, make sure you check out my 3 Step Strategy to Shredding Fat While Building Muscle!

Summary
How Many Meals Should You Eat A Day to Lose Weight? Six or Less?
Article Name
How Many Meals Should You Eat A Day to Lose Weight? Six or Less?
Description
How many meals should you eat a day to lose weight? Some claim eating six small meals keeps your metabolism boosted. But is the diet plan backed by science?
About the author

Kyle Milligan

I'm Kyle Milligan. I really enjoy writing. I wrote a couple novels (The Hang-Ups and Hangovers series) and now I blog frequently on a bunch of different websites. I also enjoy lifting heavy things and and writing about it.

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