Many people have realized the benefits of eating small meals every 2 hours once they’ve tried this lifestyle change. It turns out that if you eat small, healthy meals (or healthy snacks( every 2-3 hours, you’ll reap many health benefits.
Throughout human history, the way we eat has changed a lot. Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens often went through stages of ‘feast’ when food was readily available, followed by a time of ‘famine’ as they hunted and searched for more fertile ground.
As humans evolved, so did mealtime, but the eating habits of earlier civilizations looked nothing like what they do now.
According to Abigail Carrol, author of Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, our modern-day eating habits resulted from social and economic factors, and the Industrial Revolution was a pivotal component. Before the Industrial Revolution, people simply ate when they were hungry, often with their hands, on the go, and quickly. With no shortage of work to be done on a farm, the idea of a lunch break just wasn’t feasible.
Once factories started opening and farmers traded in their fields for production lines, meal time started to be more structured. Breakfast was eaten before the workday began, and lunch was taken by everyone at a set time. The evening was often the only time the entire family was together, and people began sitting down to a large meal at the end of a busy day and called it dinner. Thus, the modern concept of ‘three squares a day’ was born.
Recently, that idea has been turned on its head, and more health experts are promoting smaller, more frequent meals throughout the day instead of 3 large ones.
That being said, what are the benefits of eating small meals every 2 hours?
Meal Frequency and Weight Loss
Your metabolism is a chemical reaction that occurs in your body when you eat. It’s the process of turning food into energy. Your metabolism can be either fast or slow.
The main argument for more frequent meals is that it speeds up your metabolism, or at the very least keeps it running efficiently. The theory is that, by having to work to break down and digest food more frequently, you will burn more calories and lose weight.
However, science doesn’t necessarily support this theory. According to this study, increasing meal frequency did not lead to significant weight loss in a controlled group. It would seem that the total amount of calories is what matters when it comes to weight loss, not how often you eat them. 3 meals of 400 calories each is exactly the same as 6 meals of 200 calories each.
The only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit.
However, some people have found that they eat fewer calories in total if they eat something healthy every 2 or 3 hours. One of the benefits of eating small meals every 2 hours is that you’re less likely to binge on a huge meal when you’re starving, which could be thousands of calories in one sitting.
Psychological Benefits of Increased Meal Frequency
There may be psychological benefits of eating small meals every 2 hours. These psychological benefits can be influential in determining your dieting success.
For one thing, eating more frequently may help reduce food cravings. If you know your next meal or snack is only a couple of hours away, you will spend less time thinking about it. Not only does this reduce your urge to snack, but it also helps you to stay focused on what you’re doing when it isn’t mealtime.
You could even meal prep and plan out each of your small meals, having them pre-prepared in small tupperwares in your fridge. This puts your mind at ease, knowing in 2 hours, you have something to eat that’s already prepared and waiting for you. This is great because your mental focus will improve since you’ll be less distracted when it comes to food.
Another argument for increased meal frequency is that it will prevent your body from going into starvation mode, holding onto every single calorie you consume and causing weight gain. While starvation mode is a real thing, you are unlikely to go into starvation mode in a mere 4-6 hours between meals; true starvation mode only begins if you are in a major calorie deficit.
However, some people who have a natural inclination (a bad habit) of going way too long without eating, find that the benefits of eating small meals every 2 hours help reverse this habit of forgetting to eat.
Furthermore, this study suggests that eating smaller meals more frequently did reduce hunger in test subjects who were on a 6 meal per day regimen, and that can make you less likely to overeat.
Additionally, consuming 6 small meals per day is easier to portion, so eating more frequently can help you stay within your calorie limit.
How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Increased Meal Frequency
Everyone’s body is different, and your body’s needs can fluctuate daily as well. A number of factors contribute to how many calories your body needs, including the amount of energy you’re expending, where you are in your cycle, how much sleep you got the night before, and more. If you choose to adopt an increased meal frequency schedule (which may be beneficial to some dieters) it’s important to have a plan of action to avoid some of the pitfalls associated with eating more often.
- Create an eating schedule, but listen to your body. It’s important to pay attention to when you are hungry; if you’re not, don’t force yourself to snack just because your schedule says it’s time to eat. At the same time, if you are truly hungry, eat, even if it’s not on the schedule. However, it’s important to recognize true hunger from boredom. Adopting a mindful approach to mealtime can help you tune into your body and recognize true hunger from something else.
- Make smart food choices. The only way to lose weight is to create a calorie deficit. Choosing foods that are high in calories and fat is detrimental to any kind of diet, regardless of whether you’re eating 3 times a day or 6.
- Practice portion control. Remember that the total number of calories consumed is what counts if you’re trying to maintain a healthy weight. If you’re eating every 2 hours, the size of your meals will need to be reduced, and the food should be healthy.
What to Eat
You’re now aware of some of the benefits of eating small meals every 2 hours or increasing your meal frequency. Now you might be wondering what to eat throughout the day. Choose foods that are going to nourish your body and leave you feeling satiated and satisfied. This means foods that are high in protein, slow-release complex carbohydrates, healthy fats and dietary fibre.
Below are some examples of what to eat:
- Foods that are high in protein include a hard-boiled egg, lean meats (chicken, turkey or bison are good options) tofu, bone broth, edamame, greek yogurt, milk and non-dairy milk alternatives like soy milk.
- Your body absorbs the glucose contained in slow-release complex carbs gradually, which prevents spikes in insulin levels. Whole grains including oats, barley, quinoa, brown rice and farro are excellent choices, as are fruits and vegetables like sweet potatoes, squash and carrots.
- Dietary fibre keeps your digestive system running smoothly and helps you feel full in between meals. Many foods rich in fibre are also excellent sources of plant-based protein, including sprouted bread, quinoa, lentils and beans.
- Fats, even healthy fats, should be eaten in moderation. Avocados, nuts and oily fish are options that contain healthy fats. Nuts are an especially good choice for snacks between meals.
How to Execute an Increased Meal Diet Plan
We are busier than ever before, so increasing your meal frequency will require some planning and preparation if you want to make the healthiest choices. This means stocking up on healthy food options and making them easy to access; clean, portion and store your meals and snacks so they’re ready to grab when it’s time to eat. Trail mix, for example, is an easy snack to grab as one of your frequent meals. Meal planning will also help significantly here.
Try to have your first and last meal at roughly the same time every day and drink plenty of water and tea in between meals.
Finally, make breakfast your biggest meal and dinner your smallest. This study conducted in 2013 found that women who ate their largest meal early in the day lost more weight and had lower blood sugar levels than women who didn’t.
The jury may be out on the physical benefits of eating smaller meals more frequently, but if done correctly, under the guidance of a doctor or nutritionist, there is no harm in trying it; the psychological benefits of eating small meals every 2 hours may help some people lose weight. A DNA test from CircleDNA can also help you by revealing the optimal diet plan for you based on your genetics.