This is a common question for those looking to lose extra pounds and develop that lean and sexy beach body. However, the question itself is misguided. The answer is obvious—Zero. If you want to lose weight, eat no meals at all.
Many fitness professional joke about what is the best exercise for weight loss. Plate push-aways, of course. Just get yourself away from the plate (i.e. eat less) and you’ll lose weight.
While I do think portion control is important, and periodic fasts can help reconnect to hunger signals and balance hormones, not eating is obviously a bad approach for joyful living. Sure, you’ll lose weight, but you’ll also lose important muscle mass, be a terrible person to have over for dinner, and probably be cold, tired and grumpy.
Therefore, we must redefine “weight loss” into “fat loss” or even better, “healthy body composition with appropriate lean muscle mass and body fat percentage.”
Now we are getting to a better question, “How many meals should I eat to have a healthy body composition.” In other words, how can I eat to preserve or build lean muscle while reducing body fat, and of course enjoying food in the process.
But we still must ask, “What is a meal?”
There is no consensus on how we define a meal. Is eating an orange at 3pm a meal? To some it might be. To others, it’s just a snack. What if I said a meal is anything you put in your mouth that has calories. How many meals do you have a day? 3? 5? 20?
When we look at it this way, the answer is very simple: meals don’t really matter: food quantity and quality. How it’s divided up over the course of the day is more a matter of preference and convenience than a limiting factor in fat loss. Yes, meal timing can impact fat storage and muscle synthesis to a certain extent, but the effects are small compared to the quality and quantity of your food intake for the day.
So I ask, “What have you eaten today? How’s that working for you?”
If you don’t know what you currently eat, how can you know what to change to get the results you want. I suggest writing down everything that goes into your mouth. Yes, track every last crumb to pass your lips.
Tracking your food intake will serve you twofold:
1) It will provide a baseline from which you can adjust your macronutrient ratios to ensure you’re getting enough protein, water, healthy fats, and so forth.
2) It will bring awareness to how you relate to food. For instance, had you thought about that cookie long before you decided to eat it? Or were you putting away the dishes when the cookie body caught your attention and you impulsively decided to indulge?
The first step in any behavior change is awareness. Try tracking your food intake for a few weeks will help you develop more awareness of what and how you eat.
You might be surprised to find that simply forcing yourself to write down everything that goes in your mouth may nudge you into making healthier choices along the way.
Once you complete the first step 1) Track, stay tuned for more info on steps 2 and 3: Tweak and Test for more specific strategies to build the body you desire.
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