Three Meals a Day – What’s the Big Deal?

Regular eating helps to ensure you meet your energy and nutrient needs each day. Regular eating usually involves three meals and two to three snacks per day. Life is busy and sometimes eating three meals a day can be a challenge. However, a regular eating pattern is the foundation for healthy eating.

A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) showed the effect of a consistent eating pattern on weight management in participants from the National Weight Control Registry. The National Weight Control Registry was established in 1994 to study the characteristics of people who have been successful in maintaining significant weight loss. To date, over 10,000 participants are being tracked. Participants are 18 years of age or older, have lost a minimum of 30 pounds and have maintained weight loss of at least 30 pounds for one year or more.

The AJCN study reported that participants with a consistent eating pattern seven days of the week were 1.5 times more likely to maintain weight loss compared to those with a consistent eating pattern only on weekdays. This study shows why it is important to establish and maintain a regular eating pattern to optimize weight management.

The 4 to 6 rule

The exact time you eat your meals is not important as long as you are listening to your body. The general rule is to eat your meals four to six hours apart and to have breakfast within about an hour of waking. Some people choose to have snacks between meals, which can be especially important before and after periods of activity.

Listen to your body’s hunger and satiety signals. As soon as hunger hits, you should eat. Alternatively, you should not continue eating if you are full. Your brain needs about 20 minutes to decode the message from your body that you are full, so take your time while eating and pay attention to the signals

Why bother?

Eating three meals a day is a great way to ensure your body gets the energy it needs. Skipping meals leads to a variety of problems:

  • Low energy
  • Food cravings
  • Overeating at the next meal
  • Negative effect on metabolism

When you are hungry and do not eat, your body goes into “economy” mode and protects its energy reserves. In other words, your metabolism slows down. Think of your metabolism as a fire. You need to continually add logs to the fire to keep it burning. In the same way, you need to continually fuel your body with food to optimize your metabolism.

Article revised December 2014

Jaclyn Chute

Registered Dietitian

Jaclyn (BSc, RD) is a registered dietitian and nutrition educator at Alberta Milk. Integrating the science of nutrition with the taste of great food is her passion, whether at work or in her kitchen.

Article posted on October 11, 2010

Active Tip
Over the past decade, approximately 90% of the Canadian working-age population have been steadily employed, yet only 3% of the population report exercising at work.