Small Plates or Big Meals: Which is Healthier?


Is It Better To Eat Little And Often Rather Than 3 Big Meals:


When it comes to how often you are eating, it is a widely held belief that 6 small meals a day is the best way to keep your energy high, your metabolism revved up and burn excess body fat. However, if we look to past generations and other cultures (who have a much lower obesity rate) they seem to flourish on 3 square meals a day. So how often is best?


The short answer is – it depends.


I know…I know, we all want it to be black and white but the truth is everybody is different. So here are some pros and cons to each so I can help figure out the best solution for you!


6 Small Meals Per Day Pros and Cons

  • You are never too hungry and never far from a meal. This makes it easier to make healthful decisions without having to rely on willpower
  • Maintains a consistent blood sugar, which cuts down on sugar and carb cravings
  • Reduces the release of stress hormones, which happens when you begin to get hungry. This can improve mood, concentration and prevent you from screaming at your co-worker when you are “hangry” (i.e. hungry + angry)!
  • You are never really satisfied which keeps you mentally consumed with food and can lead to thinking that you are hungry and over eating
  • Time consuming. Finding time to fit in 6 meals can be difficult and if you skip one, you may be so hungry that you end up eating everything in sight
  • When you are constantly grazing your insulin levels are always slightly elevated. When insulin levels are elevated your body is in a fat storage mode rather than a fat burning mode.
  • You can start eating because you are on a schedule rather than listening to your body. This promotes mindless eating, which can lead to eating when you aren’t hungry and not stopping when you are full.


3 Square Meals Per day Pros and Cons

  • You are satisfied after a meal. This gives both your brain and your body a rest so you can focus on other things and aren’t constantly thinking about food.
  • Culturally familiar and accepted. This is probably the way that you grew up eating, meaning you are familiar with portions and how to balance a meal.  Moreover, a drastically different way of eating can make social and business situations stressful. Making a more healthful choice rather than avoiding the meal altogether is easier to navigate socially and professionally
  • Your insulin levels drop in between meals so your body can break down excess fat
  • When we go too long in-between meals our stress hormones are released. This can cause a change in mood, concentration and an increase in sugar/carb cravings. The combination of a terrible mood and cravings can cause us to make less healthful decisions.
  • When we do eat, we tend to eat very quickly. This doesn’t allow us to notice our body signaling that it is full. Typically we end up overeating or eating until we are physically sick.


As you can see, there are pros and cons to each way of eating so it is important to experiment and see which is the most effective for you. From my experience, the sweet spot for most people is 3 square meals with a snack either in the morning or the afternoon. Ideally you don’t want to go more than 4 hours in-between meals so if you are having a longer day or just one of those hungry days, add in an additional snack. This allows you to benefit from the pros of the two different ways of eating and avoiding most of the cons.


I’m interested in what has worked best for you? Share your own thoughts and experiences in the comments below!

Tara Coleman

Tara Coleman is a Clinical Nutritionist with a private practice in San Diego, CA. She speaks nationally on the topics of health and nutrition and has been cited as a nutrition expert by media such as NBC, FOX, SELF, Cosmopolitan and Dr. Oz The Good Life. Download her FREE 4 Step Nutrition Quick Start Guide and start feeling better today!

This Post Has One Comment

  1. I am almost 70 and been through almost all the food programs. Your answer is clear and your tip about taking a snack if more than 4 hours passes solves several problems. Women need to eat more frequently than men. It’s for brain power and balance. If you are over 50 it’s even more important—-Check the VERY newest science. Thank you for finding and sharing accurate information.

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