By ICANS Editorial Staff
You have probably heard the recommendation to eat small meals every 2 hours to “rev” your metabolism and maintain your blood sugar. Advocates of frequent meals say that they can help you avoid hunger and lose weight.
In fact, there are some major drawbacks to a high meal frequency, especially for people who are overweight or who have metabolic disorders such as diabetes. This tip will discuss the situations in which a high meal frequency causes more problems than it can solve.
Before we get into the drawbacks of eating every 2 hours, it should be noted that meal frequency should be individualized. Every person is different and there may be certain situations in which a higher meal frequency is warranted. However, this tip will focus on the situations when it is a bad idea.
#1: High Insulin Or Blood Sugar
Ironically, one of the arguments for a high meal frequency is to keep blood sugar steady. The theory is that eating big meals leads to rapid rises and falls in blood sugar, while eating smaller, more frequent meals should stabilize blood sugar throughout the day.
Research doesn’t support this.
Instead, frequent meals are associated with elevated blood sugar and insulin levels compared to three normally timed meals. If the goal is to stabilize blood sugar and lower insulin, a better approach than increasing how often you eat is to change what you eat.
Designing meals around high-quality protein, healthy fat, and low-carb vegetables, while removing refined carbohydrates is a more effective method of solving blood sugar issues. Increasing physical activity is another proven tool to improve blood sugar and lower insulin.
#2: Constipation/Poor Gut Function
When you are eating every 2 hours, your digestive system is always working. It never gets a break to do some of the “clean up” activities necessary to keep the intestines functioning properly. For example, fasting stimulates motility, which is the intestines contracting to maintain a downward flow of food through the intestinal tract.
When you hear your stomach grumbling after 4 to 5 hours without food, that is a function of motility. If you hammer your digestive system with food all day long, the GI tract has less opportunity to perform “housekeeping” functions to keep it healthy.
#3: Trouble Sleeping/Problems With Circadian Rhythm
All the organs in your body function on a circadian rhythm. When this natural biorhythm is impaired, you experience a cascade of negative effects: Hormone balance is altered, disease risk increases, sleep is affected, and aging occurs at an accelerated rate.
For example, the liver, an amazing organ that plays a pivotal role in metabolic function and detoxification, has a circadian rhythm of four hours. When you eat too frequently, the liver’s ability to regulate blood glucose levels, metabolize macronutrients (fat, protein, and carbohydrates), and perform detoxification activities is impaired.
How Many Meals Should You Eat Per Day?
Remember that this should always be individualized based on your unique situation, but a general rule is eating 3 to 4 times a day, with meals every 4 to 5 hours. If you have metabolic problems or need to lose body fat, sticking to a 12-hour eating window in which you eat 3 meals at 4-hour intervals should help lower insulin and reduce inflammation.
For someone with a history of skipping meals, blood sugar issues, and an overall unhealthy diet, the focus will need to be on what you eat as well as when you eat. In this case 3 meals over a 10- to 12-hour period may be ideal.
If you are a healthy individual who has balanced blood sugar and just wants to lose body fat, shortening your eating window to 8 hours and eating 2 meals during that time may be warranted.