Should I eat multiple small meals throughout the day or three big ones? And should I incorporate fasting into my diet?
Dr. Marita Schauch, naturopathic doctor
The best eating plan I have recommended to my patients over the years has been to eat smaller meals during the day, typically three mains and two snacks. The meals should always incorporate healthy, lean protein, fibre, complex carbohydrates and good fats to maintain balanced blood sugars.
Research has shown that eating more often leads to a reduction in total insulin secretion, an improvement in insulin resistance and better blood sugar control. Optimizing blood sugars and insulin has long-term benefits not just on weight but on overall health and preventing chronic disease.
Intermittent fasting is becoming more popular in the health world and although I don’t recommend it for everyone, some of my patients find it useful for managing weight loss and optimizing body composition.
One gentle variation is to eat smaller meals during the day and then avoid eating at least three hours before bedtime, which allows one to “fast” for at least 11 hours. The idea of intermittent fasting is that the body can then draw on fat stores and burn the stored fat for fuel.
Every patient that I see in my office is different and requires an individual health plan. The above is simply a guide that can be tailored to each of my patients’ individual health concerns.
Dr. Marita Schauch is a trusted naturopathic doctor in Victoria, BC, a women’s health expert, author and public speaker with a genuine passion for sharing the knowledge and tools of alternative medicine and nutrition to empower women to own their path to optimal health and lead happy, vibrant lives. doctormarita.com
Rita Catolino, personal trainer and fitness model
I frequently get asked by my clients about the number of meals needed in a day to achieve their health and fitness goals. Are three “square meals” better than six smaller ones? Will snacking help or hinder your progress? I personally have tried both methods, and although both yield great results, the key to finding what works best for you, is exactly that – what works best for your lifestyle and daily routine.
If eating every two hours feels like a chore and creates stress in your life, try eating larger meals less frequently. The real issue at hand is whether you meet your daily caloric and macronutrient intake for your goals and output, not the actual number of meals you have per day.
Another great tool to incorporate is fasting. Just as meal frequency should be tailored to the individual, fasting is the same. Some people may find a weekly 24-hour fast is a great way to start, while others may prefer a daily “fasting window” coupled with an “eating window.”
I find the latter a good way to ease into fasting, which boasts many great benefits including raising the level of your human growth hormone, helping with digestive issues as well as “resetting” your body. Start with a larger eating window and slowly increase the hours you fast each week until you hit a 16/8 (16-hour fast which includes your sleep) and eating for eight hours.
Stick to one style of eating for at least six weeks to see if it works for you, rather then constantly changing. Your body needs time to adapt before you can decide which way works best for your lifestyle. Make sure you document things like energy, mood, measurements, output and scale. Women may also want to incorporate some fats into their fasting window to help with hormonal balance.
Rita Catolino resides in London, ON and is an online coach, motivational speaker, certified personal trainer, fitness writer and cover model. Her passion for fitness and helping others can be attributed to having gone through many of her own struggles with weight her entire life. www.ritacatolino.com