For many people, the day revolves around three main meals: breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus some snacking in between.
But this isn’t the only way to do things. Some people prefer to eat several smaller meals throughout the day, while others may eat only one or two large meals instead.
Does it matter? Is one approach healthier than the other?
Eating Many Small Meals
Eating smaller meals more frequently is often recommended to boost metabolism, lose weight, and improve your heart health.
But there isn’t any strong evidence that frequent small meals can “speed up” your metabolism and help you lose weight. It may have the opposite effect.
While it may seem counterintuitive, people who eat smaller meals may tend to consume more calories. This might be related to satiety—the feeling of fullness and satisfaction after eating. When your stomach is full, a hormone called leptin is released, telling your brain to stop eating. So if your meal doesn’t fill you up, you may be more likely to grab an unhealthy snack a short while later.
But smaller, more frequent meals might help your heart. Clinical studies have found evidence that four or more meals per day may be better for your cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These are two important risk factors for heart disease.
Smaller meals can also be helpful for people with acid reflux, nausea, or digestive problems. Frequent small meals may be easier on your stomach if you have trouble digesting large meals.
Eating a Few Large Meals
People who eat just one or two large meals daily may consume fewer calories overall and lose weight more effectively.
Your body prioritizes using carbohydrates for energy before fat. Generally, you won’t burn any fat until your carbohydrate stores are depleted (usually 2-4 hours after eating). If you’re constantly eating small meals throughout the day, your body may never reach the fat-burning stage of digestion.
A large meal that fills you up can help to control your appetite and prevent you from snacking later on. And since you are spending longer between meals, your body may have more time to burn fat.
However, if you end up snacking in addition to your large meals, these extra calories can add up and cancel out any potential weight loss advantages.
So, Which Is Healthier?
There is no right or wrong answer regarding how many meals you should eat each day. It ultimately comes down to what works best for you.
If you’re trying to lose weight, it may be helpful to eat fewer, larger meals. Some people who follow the intermittent fasting approach to dieting may only eat one large feast each day, and that’s it. Many health benefits have been linked to this way of eating.
On the other hand, if you have trouble digesting large meals or feel more satisfied throughout the day when you eat smaller meals more frequently, this approach may work better for you.
If you have any additional health considerations or concerns, such as heart disease or diabetes, you can ask your doctor or a dietician for more personalized recommendations.