The Frequency Question


By: Nikki Nies

Like many, when it’s time for me to shed a few pounds, I want all the best and latest tips at hand to make the job easier and to guarantee weight loss. So, I started researching to see if the number of times a person eats in a day makes a difference in our ability to lose weight.

We all know the standard recommendation: Eat three meals a day and breakfast is the most important. However, newer research has suggested that eating between six to as many as fourteen times a day is more effective to promote weight loss because it encourages a constant feeling of fullness, which suppresses appetite. Eating that frequently limits chances of starvation, can increase metabolism and, for some, can increase and speed up weight loss. On the other hand, researchers on the opposite side argue that increasing the number of times we eat in a day could actually cause us to gain weight because the more times we eat in a day, more chances we have to  overeat.

After evaluating five research studies, I concluded that four of the five did indeed favor more frequent eating to promote weight loss. However, all five studies made one thing clear: There is no universal definition of what a “snack” or “meal” is. Without portion guides, it’s easy to see how someone could overeat. In my evaluation, one study defined a snack as greater than 50 calories, another study classified it as a food eaten within a 15-minute period, while a third study only stated that people should eat three meals and three snacks per day without providing sizes of those meals and snacks. With such room for interpretation and no clear description of portion size, it is hard to compare the studies equally.

These studies all provided mixed results as to how often and how many meals should be eaten in a day to promote weight loss. Many studies used the basis of three meals a day as the control, while high meal frequency ranged from five to fourteen meals. Clearly, more research is needed in this area, and we shouldn’t forget that quality of food consumed should also be considered. There is a fair amount of evidence that says small, frequent meals can produce a greater chance of weight loss. Yet, the lack of consistent evidence in regards to how often one should eat reinforces the idea that weight loss is a personal, individual journey and there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan. So go ahead and experiment – what works for you?


  1. Bachman JL, Phelan S, Wing RR, Raynor HA. Eating frequency is higher in weight loss maintainers and normal-weight individuals than in overweight individuals. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111(11):1730-4.

  2. Bachman JL, Raynor HA. Effects of manipulating eating frequency during a behavioral weight loss intervention: a pilot randomized controlled trial. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2012;20(5):985-92.

  3. Cameron, D. Jameson; Doucet, Eric and Cyr, Marie-Josee. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed 8 week-equi energy restricted diet. British Journal of Nutrition. November 30th, 2009. Accessed October 13, 2013.

  4. Ritchie LD. Less frequent eating predicts greater BMI and waist circumference in female adolescents. Am J Clin Nutr. 2012;95(2):290-6.

  5. Saris, Wim, Dr. Effect of feeding frequency on glucose and insulin metabolism and substrate partitioning. Maastricht University Medical Center. December 2011. Accessed October 13, 2013


1 Comment

  1. I like that you’ve researched it all before making the final conclusion. It is really baffles me when people read something in the news, take it for granted, and incorporate the new “diet”/food/juice into their lives, without questioning the sources.


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