Breakfast, lunch, dinner, repeat. Each day consists of the same three traditional meals. The system has been the same for so long, that most people don’t stop to think, are three meals a day good for me? Is that what my body needs?

If you look at different cultures around the world, the structure and timing of meals differ from ours in the United States.

In America, we’re accustomed to dinner being the biggest meal of the day. In Western Europe and South America, the largest meal is lunch. Americans put emphasis on getting a hearty breakfast. But are all of these large meals right for your body’s needs?

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Some studies suggest that eating six smaller meals throughout the day may be more beneficial to health and weight loss than eating three large meals.

This theory lies behind evidence to support the thermal effect of food. When you eat food, your body burns energy while trying to digest it. Therefore, eating smaller meals will cause your body to burn more.

It also acts as a way to maintain blood sugar throughout the day. People who have switched to eating six meals a day have experienced less hunger and consistent satiety throughout the day.

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Although it sounds rational, experts and doctors alike are uncertain whether this is exactly true. Every person is different. Believing that there is one method that works for everyone is certainly not accurate. Meals and snacks should depend on your hunger signals. But many people find that their hunger signals have desensitized over time. Relearning to listen to your body’s natural cues is a process that can take time.

The most important part of organizing your diet is figuring out what times work for you. Make sure you give yourself enough time to sit down at a table, relax and slowly eat your meal. Consume foods that are enjoyable and sustainable. If you make the most out of your meal, you won’t have the urge to reach for junk food snacks when you’re not hungry. Make your schedule consistent so that you are roughly eating the same number of meals per day no matter what number that is.

As of now there is no magic number of meals that you should eat in a day. Eating foods rich in protein and fiber take longer to digest and thus will keep you fuller throughout the day. Listen to your body and results will follow.

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