Weight loss diets have become very popular over the years with most celebrities swearing that their favorite diets can help you lose weight fast. Weight loss is however a more complex concept that the internet makes it seem. It requires that you create a calorie deficit diet. As a rough rule of thumb, if you reduce your calories to about 500 per day fewer than you expend, you should lose around 1 pound per week (15). Question, how many meals do you need to eat a day? Is snacking necessary for weight loss? Will spreading your calories over 3 meals work or is it another weight loss myth? We are about to take a closer look at the 3 meals a day diet no snacks benefits, how it contributes to weight loss and health tips.
What Are The Benefits Of Eating 3 Meals A Day?
The 3 meals a day concept involves eating 3 meals: breakfast, lunch and supper. The average person eats 3 meals a day but some choose to eat about 6 small meals throughout the day.
Some claim that eating 5 to 6 small meals throughout the day helps promote weight loss by kickstarting your metabolism. Research shows that there is no significant difference between eating frequent small meals and fewer larger meals (13) (16).
The basic principle of weight loss is reducing your calorie intake while increasing your calorie expenditure to create a calorie deficit situation (9). This principle applies regardless of the weight loss method or diet. This means that if you eat small frequent meals consisting of calorie-dense foods and don’t exercise it is unlikely that you will lose weight. You may even gain some weight instead.
But what about healthy snacks to lose weight? Snacking refers to consumption of any food or drink in between main meals. The research on whether snacking promotes weight loss or not is controversial.
Most studies show that snacking has no significant effect on weight loss one way or another (12) (20). However, some studies show that eating snacks high in protein and fiber may promote weight loss. For instance, a small study done in 2010 found that for diabetic people, eating snacks rich in protein and with a low glycemic index resulted in reduction of body weight by 1kg within 4 weeks (4).
Still, some research suggests that snacking may result in either slower weight loss or weight gain (2) (25). Snacking may elicit different effects because of differences in timing and type of snack. Healthy satiating snacks may help promote weight loss while processed snacks filled with sugar and additives may increase overall calorie intake and cause weight gain.
The 3 meals a day diet requires that you strictly eat 3 meals with no snacks in between. So, if you opt for this diet, you will have to forego any weight loss snacks. Other weight diets allow snacks. Should you opt for such a diet, make sure to eat satiating and nutrient-dense snacks such as hard boiled eggs, homemade trail mix, celery or carrot sticks with Greek yogurt or hummus and light fruit and vegetable salads.
Note that there is no scientific claim that one should eat 3 meals a day. This is a cultural norm that has been accepted and stuck through the years. There is however some scientific evidence showing the benefits of eating a few larger meals as is the case in the 3 meals a day diet.
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Below are the possible benefits of having 3 meals a day no snacks diet:
Reduced Risk Of Diabetes
Diabetes is one of the most common lifestyle diseases. Diabetes is a lifelong disease that occurs when the body underproduces insulin (the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels). It also occurs when the body becomes resistant or insensitive to insulin and cannot effectively use the hormone (5).
Eating 3 times a day may reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. One study done in 2012 found that eating 2 meals a day increased the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to having three a day. The same study also found that skipping breakfast was associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (6).
Skipping breakfast may somehow contribute to insulin resistance. This means that a higher amount of insulin is required to bring down blood glucose levels as the body is no longer sensitive to normal amounts of insulin. When this condition worsens over time, there’s a higher risk for type 2 diabetes.
The research on whether a higher or lower meal frequency promotes weight loss is controversial. Some studies support eating fewer, larger meals, while others support frequent smaller meals. A regular meal pattern and reduced meal frequency (2-3 meals per day) may however be associated with health benefits such as reduced inflammation, increased autophagy, modulation of gut microbiota and improved circadian rhythmicity (23).
One study of middle-aged men and women found that a high eating frequency is associated with a healthy lifestyle and reduced likelihood of central obesity. A low daily eating frequency was associated with higher alcohol consumption, smoking and lesser physical activity (1).
Other studies show that eating 1 to 2 times a day with regular timing is associated with a lower BMI compared to eating 3 times daily (17).
What all these mixed results suggest is that other factors are probably more important than the number of times you eat per day. What likely influences weight management more is what and how much you eat in total, and other lifestyle factors such as activity, stress, sleep, and alcohol consumption.
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Can Eating Only 3 Meals A Day Help You Lose Weight?
About 13% of the world’s adult population is obese. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart diseases, type 2 diabetes and cancers such as breast, kidney, liver, prostate and ovarian (19). Carrying too much weight can therefore be harmful to your health. Luckily, reducing your calorie intake while exercising to increase your calorie expenditure aids weight loss.
Eating 3 meals a day can help you lose weight if done right. If you eat 3 satisfying meals a day you are likely to eat fewer calories. It is also relatively easy to plan your meals and track your calorie intake.
Increased meal frequency (eating more than 3 meals per day) is sometimes said to reduce hunger, increase metabolism, improve insulin control and reduce body weight. Most studies however suggest that increased eating frequency has no significant (minimal) effect on appetite and food intake (22).
Some research also shows that eating three meals a day (compared with several meals) may help improve metabolic rate and appetite control (7). This will help prevent overeating and help you watch your calorie intake.
Lower Body Mass Index (BMI)
Body Mass Index is a measure of body fat based on a person’s height and weight. A BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered the healthy weight range while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 falls within the overweight range. If your BMI is 30 or higher, you are considered obese (3).
When it comes to eating 3 meals a day, some studies link a lower eating frequency (once or twice) to a reduction in BMI. The study also suggests that eating less, eating breakfast and no snacking may be effective for long term weight management (17).
A key consideration in meal frequency is macronutrient quality. Studies link the consumption of protein by overweight individuals to weight loss. Protein helps build muscle mass, decrease levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and increases thermogenesis (14).
When you adapt to the three meal a day diet, you will need to plan your meals ahead of time. When you have a meal plan, you will not have to worry about what food to eat and when to go grocery shopping as you will have already worked out the details. Doing this will help reduce decision fatigue and stress.
Stressing is counterproductive as high levels of stress can result in unnecessary weight gain. The stress hormone plays a key function in the regulation of appetite, body composition and fat and carbohydrate metabolism. In excess, this hormone increases your appetite and cravings resulting in overeating which eventually leads to weight gain (21).
We may therefore conclude that eating frequency does not have a profound effect on weight loss. However, meal timing and macronutrient quality seems to have a significant effect.
For better results, try these weight loss tips alongside the three meals a day diet.
- Get more active. Find a simple activity you love be it swimming, running or walking.
- Use a smaller plate to help you eat smaller portions.
- Cut back on alcohol as it contains a lot of empty calories.
- Don’t stock snacks such as chocolate, crisps, biscuits at home.
- Avoid thinking of food as either good or bad. Don’t starve yourself as your body requires energy to function.
- When eating out, always ask for a side of vegetables and avoid excessive sauces and condiments.
- Always make time for breakfast. It’s a myth that skipping breakfast promotes weight loss.
- Opt for fresh farm produce if available instead of the processed packed varieties.
- Remember to read food labels. Avoid brands with too much sodium and saturated fats. For instance; go for water-canned fish instead of oil-packed fish.
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How To Eat 3 Meals A Day
The most important factors when it comes to meal planning for weight loss is calorie amount and meal quality. All 3 meals should be balanced, satiating and filled with the essential nutrients. You are advised to track your calories. For this you can use an app or a food journal to do this.
Avoid consumption of high calorie and ultra processed foods. Eat when you are hungry and not because it is routine or due to availability of foods or snacks. Eat mindfully by taking time to properly check your food and appreciate its taste. You may also want to try drinking water an hour before your meal as water is a natural appetite suppressant (11).
A lot of data has been collected on meal timing. Studies show that eating breakfast regularly may aid in weight loss by reducing total energy intake during the day (8). Others suggest that eating later in the evening close to bedtime negatively affects weight loss (24).
Below are tips to help you plan your meals:
- Incorporate protein, complex carbs, healthy fats, vegetables and fruits.
- Eat more fiber rich foods sas you will remain full for longer.
- When choosing cereal, go for those high in fiber and low in sugar.
- Whole grain products such as whole-grain waffles, whole-grain muffins and whole-wheat bread.
- Opt for low-fat dairy products such as low-fat cheese, milk, butter and Greek yogurt.
- When you don’t have time to prepare a full breakfast meal, opt for fruit and vegetables smoothies.
- Peanut and almond butter are rich sources of protein.
- Use little sugar or alternatives such as honey.
- If you can, bake your pastries at home so that you are able to track your calories.
- You can also eat vegetables during breakfast.
Lunch And Supper
These should also be a balanced diet with all 3 macros and vegetables or fruits.
- Always have a side of vegetables – boiled, roasted or sautéed. Coloured vegetables such as summer squash, tomatoes, asparagus and bell peppers.
- Salads are a simple way to add more vegetables and fruits into your diet.
- Limit your salt intake.
- Choose complex carbs such as brown rice, whole wheat, quinoa instead of refined carbs like white rice or processed grains
- Eat protein from plant sources such as beans, peas or lean meats as they help build muscle mass.
- Incorporate oily fish. They are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids.
- Opt for healthy fats such as avocado and olive oil instead of mayonnaise and butter.
- Replace sodas, energy drinks and other sugary drinks with water and fresh fruit juices.
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1500 Calories 3 Meals A Day Diet Plan
Here is a sample 1500 calories 3 meals a day diet meal plan for 3 days:
- Breakfast: 1 serving of banana peanut butter chia pudding with 2 slices of whole wheat toast (404 calories)
- Lunch: 1 serving of quick salsa tuna wrap with I serving of carrots with hummus (547 calories)
- Supper: 2 servings of mozzarella and hummus on multigrain flatbread with 2 servings of fried broccoli (543 calories)
Nutritional info: 1494 calories, 137.4g carbs, 108.1g protein, 66.4 g fat, 44.8g fiber
- Breakfast: 1 sausage and egg breakfast sandwich with 1 medium apple (552 calories)
- Lunch: 1 serving of onigiri balls (382 calories)
- Supper: 1 serving of leftover mashed potato quesadilla with 1 serving of steamed broccoli
Nutritional info: 1500 calories, 194.8g carbs, 61.8g protein, 52.4g fat, 20.9g fiber
- Breakfast: 1 serving of peanut butter protein oats (390 calories)
- Lunch: 2 servings of big bad bean burritos (489 calories)
- Supper: 1 serving roasted salmon and 2 servings of steamed broccoli with olive oil and Parmesan (620 calories)
Nutritional info: 1499 calories, 118g carbs, 96.2g protein, 78.2g fat, 36.8g fiber
Diets are an integral aspect of weight loss. Since you need to create a calorie deficit diet, you will definitely need to reduce the number of calories you consume daily. The required calorie intake is dependent on a few factors such as age, sex, height and level of physical activity.
Eating the 3 main meals – breakfast, lunch and supper is a daily norm. When it comes to weight loss, observing your daily calorie allowance and eating high quality nutrient-dense meals is more important. That said, while following the 3 meals a day diet no snacks, ensure you properly plan your meals, eat nutrient-dense foods and drink plenty of water.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- A high eating frequency is associated with an overall healthy lifestyle in middle-aged men and women and reduced likelihood of general and central obesity in men (2010, cambridge.org)
- A Higher Meal Frequency May be Associated with Diminished Weight Loss after Bariatric Surgery (2009, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Assessing Your Weight (2020, cdc.gov)
- Chronologically scheduled snacking with high-protein products within the habitual diet in type-2 diabetes patients leads to a fat mass loss: a longitudinal study (2011, biomedcentral.com)
- Diabetes Mellitus (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Eating patterns and type 2 diabetes risk in men: breakfast omission, eating frequency, and snacking (2012, academic.oup.com)
- Effects of Meal Frequency on Metabolic Profiles and Substrate Partitioning in Lean Healthy Males (2012, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Energy intake at breakfast and weight change: prospective study of 6,764 middle-aged men and women (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fat loss depends on energy deficit only, independently of the method for weight loss (2007, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Hyperlipidemia as a Risk Factor for Cardiovascular Disease (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Increased Hydration Can Be Associated with Weight Loss (2016, frontiersin.org)
- Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet (2009, cambridge.org)
- Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit (2013, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
- I want to lose a pound of weight. How many calories do I need to burn? (n.d., nal.usda.gov)
- Meal frequency and energy balance (1997, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2 (2017, academic.oup.com)
- Nibbling versus gorging: metabolic advantages of increased meal frequency (1989, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Obesity and overweight (2021, who.int)
- Should snacks be recommended in obesity treatment? A 1-year randomized clinical trial (2007, nature.com)
- Stress and Obesity: Are There More Susceptible Individuals? (2018, link.springer.com)
- The Effect of Eating Frequency on Appetite Control and Food Intake: Brief Synopsis of Controlled Feeding Studies (2010, academic.oup.com)
- The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting (2019, mdpi.com)
- Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness (2013, nature.com)
- Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness (2014, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)