Food Question: Should I Eat 3 or 5 Meals a Day?

How often should I eat to help me lose weight?
Should I Eat 3 or 5 Meals a Day

Need ideas for coping with restaurant buffets? Want some good snack ideas? In our Q&A series, nutritionist and food editor Leslie Fink, MS, RD, answers readers' questions about food, nutrition and weight loss.

Q: Is eating five small meals a day the way to go? Or are three regular meals a day more effective for weight loss?

A: Weight loss — as well as weight gain — is a matter of calories in versus calories out. If you eat fewer calories than your body requires, you will lose weight. If you eat more calories than your body requires, you'll gain weight. How you take in those calories is up to you; it's a simple mathematical equation and really a matter of trial and error.

For example, while my husband can go for hours without eating (some days he wakes up around 7 a.m. and doesn't eat anything until 1 p.m.) and not have that affect his food choices, I MUST eat breakfast and have a midmorning snack or I crave greasy comfort food for lunch. That's not to say that my husband's method is best, but it works for him.

I do want to point out however that research shows that breakfast eaters are more successful with weight loss. Many people report feeling better both physically and emotionally when they refuel periodically throughout the day.

The trick is to play around with your food intake to see what best satisfies you. While eating an apple midmorning seems to increase my hunger, munching on a Golden Delicious in the late afternoon is a very satisfying snack. Low-fat yogurt or a small handful of nuts and raisins on the other hand is very nourishing midmorning but eaten later in the day, makes me feel bloated and "off."

Regardless of the eating pattern you establish, it's important to remember one thing: Exercise is an easy way to "erase" a few calories if you eat more than you planned for.

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