Is 3 Meals a Day the Only Way?

Updated:Mar 3,2014

Three Meals A Day GraphicHow many meals a day should you eat? It’s become an increasingly common question for those trying to eat healthier: How many meals should we eat?

While many folks still plan their days around “three square meals,” it turns out the number of meals you eat may not be so important. How you eat those meals is what matters most when it comes to decreasing the risk of heart disease and other health problems that come along with being overweight.

“It is suggested that those who eat more frequent, smaller meals have learned how to limit their intake at each meal and do not have the ravenous appetite that accompanies the starve- all-day, stuff-all-night approach,” said Linda Van Horn, Ph.D., a registered dietitian and professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University.

It’s all in the numbers.
Keeping yourself from starving helps you stay within the simple math of healthy eating.

“Overall, it is still the total calorie intake that determines someone’s body size,” said Dr. Van Horn, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “Excess calorie intake, whether spread out over the day or consumed at one meal, will still contribute to weight gain.”

Remember to spread your calorie intake across the course of the day.  And don’t skip meals.

It may seem like avoiding food is a good way to lose weight, but it’s not. Depriving your body of food isn’t good for you, and you typically wind up getting all those calories back – and then some – because you end up making yourself so hungry.

“Those who forego breakfast, eat little or no lunch and then consume a large evening meal tend to have higher BMIs,” Dr. Van Horn said.

How do you do it?
Here are some tips:

  1. Set your calorie targets.  Don’t know what those should be? Use our fats and sodium explorer tool to find out.  Remember, to lose weight plan to expend more calories than you take in each day. Most people need to subtract about 500 calories per day from their diet to lose 1 pound per week. Learn how to make smart choices when dining out and how to cook healthy at home by visiting our online nutrition center.
     
  2. Start a food diary.  Write down what you eat as well as the times of day and portions in a food diary or tracker. This will not only help you keep track of your meals and calorie intake but may point out some bad habits you didn’t know you had. Do you fill your afternoons with high carb and sugary snacks? Turn to these healthier alternatives. Are your portion sizes pushing you over your calorie goal?  Learn how to easily identify correct portions by tracking what you eat.
     
  3. Get moving.  It’s important to your overall health to get regular exercise. And it also can be a key to losing – or maintaining – weight.  Get going with these easy tips to get active at home, work and play. And check out how many calories some common activities spend.
Learn more:

Nutrition Center

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