One of the most basic nutrition techniques used to expedite fat loss is eating small, frequent meals throughout the day. The effect of eating six portioned meals every 2-3 hours is so beneficial, yet so many people trying to drop body fat are completely oblivious to the concept of meal frequency.
Eating six times a day will make you much less hungry, will give you more energy, and will greatly increase fat loss all while eating a calorie restricted diet. It takes tons of discipline and a commitment to planning, but if you can successfully incorporate this technique it into your nutrition plan, you will surely see some amazing results.
To further understand the benefits (and challenges) of eating six times a day, let's first take a look the common meal frequency of most people and why it can severely cripple the results of any fat loss nutrition plan.
How do most people eat
Most people eat no more than 3 times during a day. Sometimes people only eat twice (usually because they skip breakfast). A not too unusual eating day for many is a modest sized lunched followed many hours later by an extravagantly large dinner with maybe a couple servings of dessert and/or junk food right before bed.
To understand why this is such as bad thing, first you must wrap your head around an interesting facet of your body's adaptive metabolic process. When you eat really large meals, your body has little ability to process the large intake of calories all at once and the majority of each meal gets stored as fat (as energy reserves). After a large meal your blood sugar is also spiked greatly, but then comes down to a normal level quickly. After a few more hours of not eating you blood sugar drops to a low level, so you begin to feel lethargic and often you start feeling very hungry again.
Now when you combine this sort of an eating routine with a "calorie restricted diet" the results can be disastrous. Since you are eating a less amount of calories very infrequently, your body's blood sugar levels are low almost the entire day. You feel extremely lethargic and extremely hungry almost all the time. To counteract this, your body gradually falls into a "starvation mode" where the entire metabolic process slows down substantially. Instead of burning fat, your body protects it as a vital energy reserve and burns other sources of fuel (like your muscle tissue) in much larger proportion.
What your left with is a diet that puts you through periods of extreme lethargy and great bouts of hunger and a body that has decreased metabolism and a glaring inefficiency at burning fat. Yikes.
Why you should eat six times a day
Now compare that to what happens when you eat six portioned meals throughout the day. When you eat this way, your body is constantly being fed the nutrients it needs, and your blood sugar level will remain relatively constant throughout the day . When this happens, your energy levels stay high all the time, and your hunger is thoroughly minimized.
Also, since you are not feeling the effects of a dreaded metabolic decrease from "starvation mode" your metabolism stays at a very high and efficient level. With your meals small and portioned, virtually all of the calories you intake are being used to support your body's processes with very little, if any at all, being stored as extra fat.
The result is a nutrition plan that has transformed your body into a efficient, well-oiled fat burning machine.
The challenges of eating six times a day
Now, even though eating six times a day sounds great, there are plenty of challenges you'll have to deal with. Here's an outline of some major hurdles you'll face when developing a daily six-meal plan:
1) Eating Correctly:
The first challenge is to eat properly. Even though spreading out your meals is great for your metabolism, you still have to make healthy choices and eat less calories than you burn in a day. Don't think eating frequently is a pass that lets you go through the McDonald's drive thru six times daily.
Also, don't eat too little six times a day and think you can get away with it either. If you eat too little, no matter how frequently you eat, you can still get hit with the ill effects of "starvation mode". The goal is to put your body in a state of *slight* caloric deficiency for optimal fat loss.
2) Eating Every 2-3 Hours:
The second challenge is to actually physically eat every 2-3 hours, This can be a pretty difficult task for some. For people who travel a lot, or those that have hectic work schedules, it may even seem impossible. The key is in planning. What you should do is prepare your meals ahead of time, either daily or weekly (so go buy a bunch of plastic food containers).
Now, don't think you have to prepare six fulls meals a day either. Protein shakes, meal replacement powders/drinks, and protein/travel bars can be substituted in for regular meals as needed. In fact, usually I only eat 3 regular meals a day, with 3 "substituted" meals in between. These substituted meals are also great because they are quite travel friendly, so use them to your advantage and make your life easier.
3) Normalize Sleeping:
The next challenge is to create regular sleep patterns. You need to setup your sleeping routine so you have enough time to eat six times a day. Your body's metabolism is the lowest when you are sleeping, so make sure you're not snoozing more than 8 hours a night. This keeps your metabolism up and gives you plenty of time to eat all of your meals. If you find it difficult to get your sleeping habits normalized, try taking short naps throughout the day (in between meals) as needed.
And while we're on the topic of sleeping. I'd like to point out that an advanced fat loss technique when eating six times a day is to make sure your last meal of the day is no later than 3 hours before you go to bed (and that the ratio of carbs in this meal are cut drastically). This helps make sure your final meal doesn't get stored as fat during your slowed down nighttime metabolism.
4) Social Pressure:
Finally, the last challenge you'll face when fueling your body constantly throughout the day is social pressure. It's quite absurd, but it's something you're going to have to deal with over and over again.
The issue is that most people, as mentioned before, stuff themselves only 2 or 3 times a day. So if you are out eating with friends or relatives, usually they're going to look at you crazy when you fill your plate with only a 300-400 calorie portion. They'll make remarks, they may ask you why you are on some "crazy diet", they may even make fun of you (especially true if you're a guy). If you're in the most unlucky situation, with Mom or Grandma cooking, they may even insist aggressively that you "need to eat more".
Dealing with these situations constantly can be exhausting. Of course, you need to have a tough skin and not budge an inch.
Sometimes when I'm put in these situations, to combat the pressure I'll just just give an explanation ("I just ate 2 hours ago, I'm not that hungry") or sometimes i'll challenge people directly ("I'm actually not on some diet, I'm just eating every 2 to 3 hours to stay fit. You should try it, eating like you are right now is very unhealthy").
Or sometimes, if I'm not in the mood to deal with it, I just let the comments go in one ear and out the other. Whatever strategy you choose, just remember you'll be faced with this situation a lot, so you should anticipate it (and not get too emotional when it happens).
Now go do it!
So as you can see, eating six meals a day has some amazing benefits and it will allow you to burn fat much more efficiently and more comfortably.
Remember though, it's hard and you'll still have to eat correctly and then overcome the challenges of preparing six meals a day by planning ahead. You'll also need to get your sleeping habits in check. Finally, you'll need to be supremely confident in yourself, so that nothing, even undue social pressure could knock you off track.
So with that said, what are you waiting for? It's time to eat!