The 6 meals a day diet is very popular for weight loss and fitness. But does eating 6 small meals a day actually work? How do you start a 6 meals a day plan?
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that eating 6 meals a day can help you lose weight and keep your body fueled while getting in shape. For example, it’s how most fitness models and body builders eat when getting their body fat down to seriously low levels. A lot of trainers will also tell you that they see a difference between the progress of those eating 5 or 6 meals a day and those eating a more traditional 3 meal a day diet. I can tell you from my own personal experience that it’s easier for me to fuel my body appropriately without over-eating if I break my diet into multiple smaller meals.
It’s true that ultimately, if you’re trying to lose weight, the key is to eat fewer calories per day than you’re burning. Whether you break this calorie intake into 3 meals or 6 meals doesn’t change this math. For example, a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition (vol 103 issue 08) found that when two groups had the same restricted energy intake, there was no difference in the weight loss. However, if you want to lose fat and not muscle, you’ll also need to exercise appropriately, and how you eat will make a difference.
How Does a 6 Meals A Day Diet Work?
It takes you around 2½ – 3 hours to digest a small meal. This is also the same period you’ll have between meals on a 6 meals a day plan. So you’re never going hungry, and provided you’re controlling your portions, you’ll never over eat. This results in a number of positive effects:
- Because you’re not eating big meals, you’re not overdosing on carbs, and hence your blood sugar is going to be a lot more regular. You won’t have the roller-coaster of a post-meal energy buzz followed by a crash. Of course, this assumes your meals are healthy and balanced (a Snickers bar is not a valid meal). Also, because you’re not supplying your body with more energy than it can use in one meal, there shouldn’t be any excess for it to store as fat.
- Because you’re never hungry, it’s easier to control cravings. In fact, you’ll probably have very few cravings, other than for the occasional treat, which is okay in moderation.
- Similarly, because you’re never hungry, you’re less likely to over-eat. You won’t have any more those days when you get to the end of the day and you’re starving, so your appetite is enormous and stuff yourself full.
- If you’re exercising (and you should be if you want to lose fat), this approach to eating will supply your muscles with a steady supply of protein. This is preferable to taking your all of your protein in a few large meals, because your body can only consume protein at a moderate rate, and any excess is just wasted.
How to follow a 6 meals a day plan
It’s actually pretty simple.
- Figure out your portion sizes. The easy way to do this is to follow the rule of thumb that a portion is around the size of your palm, and each meal should have a portion of lean protein, and a portion of carbs. At least two meals a day should have a portion of green veggies. The more thorough way to do this is to calculate your daily calorie needs, break that into ratios of carbs, protein and fat, and get out your scales and start measuring. The thorough way will get you to your goals faster, but it’s too much of a hassle for most people, and the easy way works too.
- Eat every 2½ – 3 hours. Don’t let it go any longer than this, or you’ll start dipping into hunger mode. Similarly, don’t eat more frequently, because you won’t have digested the previous meal yet.
- Listen to your body before and after every meal, and adjust accordingly. You should feel slightly hungry before a meal. If you don’t, you probably over-ate on the previous meal. Likewise, you should feel light and satisfied after a meal, but not overly full.
- If you’re coming from a 3 meal a day diet, you may want to just split each meal in half, and save the second half for later.
- You can also keep some ingredients in bulk and just portion them out as needed. Things like roast turkey or chicken breast, tuna, steamed brown rice, fruit, etc, can just be kept in the fridge and easily portioned into small meals either as needed or ahead of time.
- If you’re at work or out running errands during the day, you can just portion your meals in the morning, and put them in separate containers or bags to take with you.
To be honest, it can be a bit overwhelming to begin with, because it seems like you’re always thinking about what to eat next. But trust me, after a few weeks you’ll have gotten into the groove. You’ll know what you like, how much to eat, and what you can prepare beforehand, and you’ll basically be on auto-pilot and won’t even need to think about it. You’ll also feel great.