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This Is How Often You Should Eat, According to Science

Are frequent meals your ticket to a better body, or do they derail your weight loss efforts?

You already know that if you want to lose weight, you've got to consume healthy, wholesome foods. Where most diet-confusion lies is in the timing and frequency of meals. Should we be eating three squares, or is consuming multiple, smaller meals throughout the day a better approach? Experts have gone back and forth on this issue, which has only created more confusion among dieters. Researchers now have a science-backed answer that might clear things up—and help you lose a few of those pesky pounds!

Research participants who ate less than four times a day consumed more calories and had a higher BMI than those who sat down to eat at least six times, according to a Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics study of 2,385 adults. The scientists noticed that those who ate fewer meals consumed most of their calories at night and were more apt to drink alcohol with their meals, while their ever-grazing counterparts tended to eat healthier, less calorically-dense foods—which makes a lot of sense when you think about it. Healthy foods tend to be low in calories but high in satiating nutrients like protein, water and fiber, which also aid weight-maintenance. On the other hand, not eating between meals ups the odds dieters will be ravenous and eat anything they can get their hands on by the time they put fork to mouth.

If you're currently only eating three meals a day and want to join the grazing group, decrease the size of your breakfast, lunch and dinner a bit and incorporate two or three healthy snacks into your daily diet. Fruits, vegetables and high-protein snacks (like our 25 Best High-Protein Snacks for Weight Loss) are all healthy picks that can help you reach your weight loss goal.

Dana Leigh Smith
Dana has written for Women's Health, Prevention, Reader's Digest, and countless other publications. Read more about Dana Leigh