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  • Q&A with Australian Health Practitioners

    Does meal frequency matter in my battle with obesity?

  • Find a professional to answer your question

  • 1

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    Priya Iyer

    Dietitian

    With over 16+ years experience in the field of nutrition & dietetics, Priya specialises in rehabilitation (covering neurology, burns, aged care & disability) and has … View Profile

    Few studies have reported lower body weight in adults with increased meal frequencies. In children, there are a few observational studies that show a positive reduction in obesity risk with increased meal frequency. We need more controlled trials & research in this area to strengthen evidence though.
    Eating regular meals will help with satiety which will prevent eating large, energy dense meals post skipping meals. However, frequency of meals alone does not determine the risk of obesity as the quality & quantity of meal eaten during that time matters most. Your dietitian will be able to address all your myths & misconceptions by looking at the meal pattern & analyzing its nutrient content to give you an individually tailored advice.

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    Samantha Ling

    Dietitian, Nutritionist

    Samantha is an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD), consultant and food and nutrition enthusiast. Samantha works in a private practice on the Central Coast, NSW, Rostant … View Profile

    As Priya has nicely summed up - evidence does suggest that increased meal frequencies can assist with reported lower body weights in adults. And again - it's not necessarily for everyone so talking to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) may be of benefit to you. Like Pyria mentioned - quantity and quality of each meal is just as important.

    In my own experience with clients trying to lose weight - increased meal frequencies has assisted with losing weight and keeping the weight off as it helped break my clients ‘snacking’ behaviours throughout the day, which more often than not tended to be energy dense, high fat, high sugar foods. Rather than sitting down to a nutritious meal they just tended to pick on whatever was available throughout the day - so while at the time it seemed like only “one piece of chocolate” or “one doughnut” it adds up over the course of a day.

    With some clients, consuming 3 main meals a day is ample (eg. breakfast, lunch and dinner) to help with satiety (feeling full for longer) and therefore reducing the chance of overeating or snacking between meals. With other clients, consuming 3 main meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and 3 small midmeals (morning tea, afternoon tea and supper) works for them. Talking to an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) may be beneficial for you to help determine what suits your lifestyle.

    As a general guideline and to ensure nutritional adequacey of your diet, consuming at least 3 main meals everyday is recommended.

    Samantha Ling
    Rostant Nutrition
    (Find us on facebook at www.facebook.com/RostantNutrition )

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    Daniela Manche

    Sports Dietitian

    Daniela Manche is a consultant sports dietitian for Sports Dietitians Australia (SDA), a professional organisation of dietitians specialising in the field of sports nutrition. For … View Profile

    There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to the number of times you should eat in the day. As a general rulke, eating smaller meals and snacks more frequently may improve your appetite control and manage cravings, meaning that your calorie intake is better controlled in the long term. Breakfast is an important part of this and most individuals needing to lose weight skip this important meal. It will stimulate your appetite earlier, so have a healthy snack (like a yoghurt, for example) ready to go for mid-morning and a healthy lunch to follow later. An Accredited Sports Dietitian will be able to provide you with more specific advice, especially if exercise is part of your new routine. Click here to find an expert near you: http://www.sportsdietitians.com.au/findasportsdietitian 

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    Carlia Lozo

    Dietitian, Nutritionist, Personal Trainer

    Welcome to Wellbeing is a private dietetic practice specialising in nutrition and eating behaviour counselling to individuals with weight and eating concerns. Our team provide … View Profile

    Increased eating frequency has been shown to increase metabolism, decrease hunger and food cravings, reduce body weight and body fat. This strategy has therefore become appealing for individuals seeking weight loss and/or weight maintenance. However, research shows that in the current obesogenic environment, eating more frequently may lead to an increased exposure to energy dense (high fat) and large portion sized foods. As a result, having the opposite effect than intended and leading to increased hunger, excess energy intake and weight gain. Individuals vary with regards to eating frequency and it’s important to understand that it’s the total amount of energy consumed in a day and the food choices which determine weight loss.
     
    For weight loss to occur an energy deficit is required, therefore a decrease in food and/or drink consumption. An Accredited Practising Dietitian is able to provide a tailored meal plan which includes the appropriate energy deficit to allow for a healthy weight loss.

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    Gabrielle Maston

    Dietitian, Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Sports Dietitian

    A qualified Dietitian, Nutritionist, Exercise physiologist and Personal trainer. Gabrielle studied at the nutrition and sport and exercise science at the University of Sydney. During … View Profile

    The most important part of losing weight is calorie control. It does not matter if you eat 3 or 6 meals if you create a calorie deficit you will lose weight. To lose 1kg per week you need to expend or eat less by 500kcal daily. 

    Eating more frequent  meals is better in terms of appetite regulation.  Eating  every 3-4hours will prevent you from getting too hungry and binge eating at the next meal.

    In terms of what the studies have shown, there is no difference in weight loss if you eat three meals a day or six meals a day. So it's really just about controlling your appetite.

    Another factor you need to consider if you choose a three or seix meal per day plan  is convenience.  Some people don't have the time at work  to stop and eat six meals, whereas people at home or that have a little bit more time on their hands might be able to have the six meals a day. Your lifestyle and time commitments need to be evaluated. 

  • 3

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    Peter has a Bachelor's degree in Science and two Masters degrees (Science and Nutrition/Dietetics). He is an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist and also a … View Profile

    I can tell you that if you look at clinical studies, there's a study from where they matched meal plans and took people and gave them the same amount of calories in six meals a day or three meals a day. Then the answer was that after six months those people were the same way. So the answer is meal frequency either three meals or six meals a day if matched with the same amount of calories, then the answer is there is no difference.

    But in clinical practice I can tell you that people who have large gaps between meals, when they do eat, they eat too much, they eat too quick and they tend to eat high calorie stuff and high carbohydrate stuff because it gives them energy straightaway. So in a clinical trial where I can control the amount of calories that are going in the answer is it doesn't matter. But in clinical practice I think that it does matter.

    I try to get people to have snacks between the meals, which are high in fiber, high in protein because those snacks are the things that when you go to eat a main meal then you’ll probably eat less.

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    Lucy Johnston

    Exercise Physiologist, Nutritionist, Personal Trainer

    Owner ,Operator of Pro Health Studio, Exercise Physiology Clinic, Byron Bay. We service clients with chronic diseases, chronic injuries and weight issues right through to … View Profile

    Yes I believe so. You need to be telling your body that it doesn't have to worry about this meal being it's last meal. It is also extremely important for digestion as when we have large breaks between meals our digestive system which is muscular slows down and becomes inefficient which then slows the rate of nutrient absorption and removal of waste products. The other important factor is eating small amounts regularly keeps your energy levels up for a longer period of time which then promotes more physical activity. If you are feeling sluggish from a meal that is too large or due to feeling hungry, you are unlikely to get up and want to move which will stimulate muscle fibres and bone to continue to turn over and stay strong..

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    Sharon Brooks

    Nutritionist

    Sharon, a Registered Nutritionist RNutr and Food Scientist runs a nutrition consulting business that specialises in proactive nutrition and disease prevention.Sharon runs corporate, school and … View Profile

    Yes, it certainly does. One of the reasons is if we do not eat regularly our system goes into ‘shock’ and overtime this may slow the metabolism. We need to eat regularly to keep the metabolism firing.

    Long periods without food increases cravings and the desire for high fat and highly sugared foods. The body seeks these foods in order to get an instant energy fix. Long term this is disasterous for weight maintenance and weight reduction. It also increases the risk of certain lifestyle diseases such as Type 2 Diabetes, Cardiovascular disease, Stroke, Atherosclerosis and some cancers.

    Regular meals are crucial for long term health and weight reduction practices. Depending on the individual it may be 3 meals, 3 meals and 2 snacks or 6 small meals. There are many options which need to suit individual lifestyle pratices. The important part is regular meal planning which should prevent long periods without food.

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    Kirsty Woods

    Exercise Physiologist

    Hi I’m Kirsty Woods,I would like to use my experience, expertise and passion to help you reach your weight, energy and health goalsI have been … View Profile

    A few mixed responses in there. I agree that meal frequency does have a significant impact, at least for some individuals…

    Skipping meals slows down your metabolism.  Due to a survival mechanism relating back to our ancestors our body decreases its metabolic rate and reduces energy expenditure to preserve energy (fat) to allow us to survive starvation.  

    Not eating frequently also  causes our blood sugar levels drop causing hormonal changes that provoke hunger and cravings. When this occurs we tend to go for the wrong types of foods and lots of them, creating a starvation-binge pattern. 

    All the best on your journey!!!

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