Meal Frequency and Health in Adults
Humans have been known to have quite a diverse diet as a species, and with this diverse diet comes a plethora of different eating habits and diets. One aspect of diet that most definitely is not consistent among every single human being is when and how often people eat. Normally, one would think most people eat 3 meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well, what about the college student who never eats breakfast, or the olympic swimmer who’s eating 6 meals a day? Though it seems eating less meals in a day would lead to lower chance of obesity and better health, increasing meal frequency, with balanced healthy meals, can lessen the risk of obesity, increase metabolic health, and better overall health.
A balanced meal is an ambiguous term, and can be interpreted in probably a million different ways. In this case, as Joda Derrickson states in her article, “Interpretations of the “Balanced Meal” Household Food Security Indicator,” “the term ‘balanced meal’ generally evokes images of a meal containing at least three food groups.” So, a balanced diet would be considered a diet that contains a variety of food groups like fruits and vegetables, dairy, starches, proteins, etc.
Timing multiple meals throughout the day can be difficult, which is why people are generally categorized into two groups, late type and early type. In her article “Role of chronotype in dietary intake, meal timing, and obesity: a systematic review,” Gabriela Teixeira states that,
Late types are more likely to present unhealthy eating habits, such as eating late at night, skipping breakfast often, and eating processed/ultraprocessed foods, while early types are more likely to have healthy and protective habits, such as eating early and eating predominantly fresh/minimally processed foods. Intermediate types tend to have a pattern of health and eating more similar to early types than to late types.
This leads to higher weight and body mass index (BMI) in late type eaters than in early and intermediate type eaters, as Teixeira also states in her findings that, “Late types are also more likely to present higher body weight and body mass index than early or intermediate types.” This makes sense as late type eaters are more likely to indulge in snacking rather than spacing out balanced meals throughout the day.
Meal timing is a vital part of eating habits, as touched upon previously. In her article “Metabolic impacts of altering meals frequency and timing,” Amy Hutchinson states that, “[increased meal frequency] becoming increasingly apparent that meal timing must also be considered if we are to ensure optimal health benefits in response to this dietary pattern,” Hutchinson later states that,
Increased meal frequency has also been advocated as a dietary strategy to promote weight loss by enhancing satiety and reducing hunger, increasing energy expenditure, and improving metabolic health[, and] epidemiological reports have shown a favorable relationship between increased meal frequency, weight and metabolic health
Metabolic health, as shown by these studies, is a very important indicator when discussing overall health as it pertains to your diet, and adequately timing multiple meals throughout the day can help to improve that.
Metabolic health is defined by Milvia Pili in her article “What is Metabolic Health,” as “The absence of metabolic disease,” or having ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Metabolic health is different for everyone, as everyone comes from different genetic and cultural backgrounds, and people across the world have limited access to certain foods. In George Thom’s article “Is There an Optimal Diet for Weight Management and Metabolic Health,” he states that, “Human beings prefer things to be simple, and therefore there is a desire to pinpoint the one best diet that solves everything,” hinting that manipulating diets for metabolic health is not as straightforward as it may seem. However, Thom later states that we may be able to categorize people by genotypes, looking at family history of obesity and metabolic health.
With this favorable relationship between lower BMI, better metabolic health, and more frequent meals throughout the day, many are left wondering why this is. Tracking back to Hutchinson’s article about meal frequency and timing, she states, “Increased meal frequency has also been advocated as a dietary strategy to promote weight loss by enhancing satiety and reducing hunger, increasing energy expenditure, and improving metabolic health.” Here she is saying that by spacing meals out and having multiple smaller meals throughout the day, people will tend to have more energy than those who are not practicing these recommended eating habits.
Everyone is different, and that means everyone has different needs in terms of their diets. Whether it is genotypically and culturally, diets will heavily vary from one person to another. Despite uncertainties, one aspect of diet is for sure: increased frequency of healthy, well balanced meals will improve BMI, metabolic health, energy levels, and lower risk of obesity.
Adults should be eating more frequently, it can help reduce the risk of obesity, improve metabolic health, and increase energy expenditure. Obesity is a rising problem around the world, as Amy Hutchinson states in her article “Metabolic impacts of altering meal frequency and timing”, “39% of adults were overweight, and 13% were obese[, and] If the current rates of obesity continue, projections predict that by 2030, around 1.9 billion adults will be overweight or obese”. With this consistent issue of obesity, and all the other health complications it comes with, a solution must be found. This solution may sound unorthodox, but studies have shown that eating more frequent, balanced meals can promote better metabolic health, lower risk of obesity, and increase the amount of energy you have to spend at a time.
Eating and diet habits vastly vary from lifestyle to lifestyle, as there are a multitude of different factors contributing to how humans eat, and, as humans continue to evolve, so will their eating habits. In her article “Snack frequency: associations with healthy and unhealthy food choices”, Christina hartmann explains that “Changes in lifestyle and the environment over the last few decades have probably been the most important causes of the overweight epidemic in Western society”, so as society evolves, their diet has to evolve with them or else issues like obesity and metabolic health problems are bound to occur.
Culture is a massive reason why the human species is so diverse, as culture affects every single aspect of your life, including your diet. In his article “Cultural aspects of meals and meal frequency”, Matty Chiva iterates:
The definitions of food intake and frequency play a major role in building up consumers’ perceptions. These various perceptions are multiple (perception of self, of food and its virtues, the rules and moral values of consumption) and finally influence behaviors.
This further illustrates how much of an impact culture has on how humans perceive diet and nutrition, as even the perception of self, a concept seemingly unrelated to food, can have an impact on how people eat.
Finding a way to accommodate every single person’s dietary needs is challenging, but again Hutchinson states in her article that, “the consumption of small, regular meals has frequently been touted as a dietary approach that may limit weight gain”, so although there may not be one universally accepted dietary guideline, there can be loose “rules” to help govern someone to a healthier lifestyle.
There are, however, several studies done that provide insightful information as to how frequently someone should eat. Highlighted in Heather Leidy’s article “The Effect of Eating Frequency on Appetite Control and Food Intake: Brief Synopsis of Controlled Feeding Studies”:
Increased eating frequency is postulated to increase metabolism, reduce hunger, improve glucose and insulin control, and reduce body weight, making it an enticing dietary strategy for weight loss and/or the maintenance of a healthy body weight.
With all of these benefits to an increased balanced meal frequency, people need to begin to realize that this novel thinking could be the beginning of a healthier lifestyle.
Whether or not eating frequency even has a significant role in causing obesity is still up in the air for most people. Is it eating too much, or eating too often the main cause for obesity in adults? Isabel Holmback’s article, “A high eating frequency is associated with an overall healthy lifestyle in middle-aged men and women and reduced likelihood of general and central obesity in men”, answers that with a study that showed:
A low daily eating frequency was associated with smoking, higher alcohol consumption, and lower leisure-time physical activity. Eating three or fewer meals per day was also associated with increased likelihood of general and central obesity in men when adjusting for total energy intake, lifestyle and dietary factors.
So not only does eating more frequently increase your overall health and reduce risk of obesity, it also helps to eliminate other unhealthy lifestyle choices such as drinking too much, smoking, and stagnation.
Holmback then goes on to state in the same article that his studies suggest that, “The present study suggests that a high daily eating frequency is associated with a healthy lifestyle and dietary pattern in both men and women, and a reduced likelihood of general and central obesity in men”, so not only does increased meal frequency help to eradicate unhealthy decisions, but it also helps to promote a healthy body and lifestyle with obesity prevention and more energy usage throughout the day.
Promoting healthy lifestyle choices and creating healthy habits for yourself are vital in living a happy healthy life. To make these choices, a person will obviously need the energy to do so. This is important because France Bellisle’s article, “Meal frequency and energy balance”, states that, “studies suggest that the thermic effect of feeding is higher when an isoenergetic test load is divided into multiple small meals”, meaning that when divided up into multiple smaller meals, your body can more properly use this energy, and it will not go to waste as it would if one ate fewer larger meals.
With benefits such as increased energy expenditure, having more energy throughout the day, increased metabolic health, and preventative measures for obesity, everyone needs to be eating multiple, smaller, healthy, and balanced meals throughout the day, rather than a few large meals.
The idea of eating more frequently to help lose weight and increase metabolic health is a novel one, and many are on the fence about whether or not it works. Understandably so, eating less frequently logically makes sense as a way to promote weight loss and better health. However, the way that your body processes and uses nutrients in food when its intakes are more spread apart and it is eating bulkier meals. According to her article about the effect of eating frequency on appetite control, Heather Leidy states that “reduction in eating frequency (<3 meals/day) appears to negatively influence appetite control,” meaning subjects are more likely to feel hungry throughout the day, increasing the likelihood of snacking.
Eating more frequently however, has been shown to reduce the possibility of wanting to snack afterwards. In Corinne Marmonier’s article, “Metabolic and behavioral consequences of a snack consumed in a satiety state,” she states that, “A snack consumed in a satiety state fails to prolong the intermeal interval and would thus tend to favor storage.” This means that if someone who is full eats a snack, the body will not be able to absorb and process all of its nutrients, as they are already full after their meal. If one were to change their diet to eat more meals in a day, their body will feel less hungry and have less of an urge to snack.
Diets are very fragile, meaning they can change from day to day, and the slightest variation can have tremendous consequences, good or bad, to one’s health. This is illustrated in Didier Chapelot’s article, “Consequence of Omitting or Adding a Meal in Man on Body Composition, Food Intake, and Metabolism,” when he found that, “adiposity may increase when young lean male subjects switch from a four- to a three-meal pattern by removing their usual afternoon meal,” only further expanding the reasoning to as why eating more frequently is more beneficial to overall health than less frequent eating.
Another argument against higher meal frequency is that it all comes down to caloric intake. It is one simple equation: calories in minus calories out. However, in a study called “The relationship between frequency of eating and adiposity in adult men and women in the Tecumseh Community Health Study,” author HL Metzner states, “the effect of caloric intake showed that frequency of eating was related inversely to the adiposity index for men and women separately with statistical significance at the 1% level.” In simpler terms, this means that when you eat has an effect on your caloric intake, in other words, eating 2000 calories right when you wake up or right before you go to bed is not the same as eating four 500 calorie meals throughout the day.
Since meal timing matters so much, some may pose the argument that diet is not a one size fits all kind of issue to solve, everyone is different when it comes to what they eat, when they eat it, and how often they eat. Amy Hutchinson states in her article “Metabolic impacts of altering meal frequency and timing – Does when we eat matter?” that, although seemingly counterintuitive, “Epidemiological reports have shown a favorable relationship between increased meal frequency, weight and metabolic health,” meaning one is at less risk for obesity, and has a lower chance of getting some sort of metabolic disease that can affect their overall health later down the road.
One important idea to keep in mind during all of this is that caloric intake is staying the same, whether someone is eating two meals per day or six. When looking at meal consumption frequency in adults in his article about isocaloric increases in eating episodes, Xavier Allirot states that:
The present study supports the cause that the isocaloric increase of eating frequency may contribute to improving appetite control by reducing hunger, decreasing ghrelin concentration and increasing GLP-1 concentration in normal weight men.
This explains that not only does an increased meal consumption frequency help promote weight loss, reduce the risk of obesity, and improve overall metabolic health, but it also allows your body to use more macronutrients in foods, absorb nutrients better, and increase chemicals your body needs while reducing chemicals it does not.
Allirot, X., Saulis, L., Seyssel, K., Graeppie-Dulac, J., Roth, H., Charrie, A., Goudable, J., Blond, E., Disse, E., & Laville, M. (2013, January 17). An isocaloric increase of eating episodes in the morning contributes to decrease energy intake at lunch in lean men. Science Direct. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0031938413000243
Bellisle, F., McDevitt, R., & Prentice, A. M. (2007, March 9). Meal frequency and energy balance: British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge Core. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/meal-frequency-and-energy-balance/478F4065A5C5BC1B6E15A8482F8DC239
Chapelot, D., Marmonier, C., Aubert, R., Allegre, C., Fantino, M., & Louis-Sylvestre, J. (2012, September 6). Consequence of Omitting or Adding a Meal in Man on Body Composition, Food Intake, and Metabolism. Wiley Online Library. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1038/oby.2006.28
Chiva, M. (2007, March 9). Cultural aspects of meals and meal frequency: British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge Core. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/cultural-aspects-of-meals-and-meal-frequency/EA11E4A542A24FF94A468DA5971648B3
Derrickson, J. P., Sakai, M., & Anderson, J. (2008, July 30). Interpretations of the “Balanced meal” household food security indicator. Journal of Nutrition Education. Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1499404606601851
Garaulet, M., & Madrid, J. A. (2010, May 24). Chronobiological aspects of nutrition, metabolic syndrome and Obesity. Advanced Drug Delivery Reviews. Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0169409X10001328
Hartmann, C., Siegrist, M., K. van der Horst, K. (2016). Snack frequency: associations with healthy and unhealthy food choices Public Health Nutr. from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/public-health-nutrition/article/snack-frequency-associations-with-healthy-and-unhealthy-food-choices/888B1F635485431C612DE19B4BC9442D
Holmbäck, I., Ericson, U., Gullberg, B., & Wirfält, E. (2010, May 26). A high eating frequency is associated with an overall healthy lifestyle in middle-aged men and women and reduced likelihood of general and Central Obesity in men: British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge Core. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/british-journal-of-nutrition/article/high-eating-frequency-is-associated-with-an-overall-healthy-lifestyle-in-middleaged-men-and-women-and-reduced-likelihood-of-general-and-central-obesity-in-men/A0A079076CF60DD0E918345DC33DD8AA
Leidy, H. J., & Campbell, W. W. (2010, December 1). The Effect of Eating Frequency on Appetite Control and Food Intake: Brief Synopsis of Controlled Feeding Studies. Academic.oup.com. Retrieved November 7, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/141/1/154/4630606
Marmonier, C., Chapelot, D., & Louis-Syvestre, J. (1999, November 1). Metabolic and behavioral consequences of a snack consumed in a satiety state. Academic.oup.com. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/70/5/854/4729128#111368131
Metzner, H. L., Lamphiear, D. E., Wheeler, N. C., & Larkin, F. A. (1977, May 1). The relationship between frequency of eating and adiposity in adult men and women in the Tecumseh Community Health Study. Academic.oup.com. Retrieved November 21, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/30/5/712/4650179
Teixeira, G. P., Guimarães, K. C., Soares, A. G. N. S., Marqueze, E. C., Moreno, C. R. C., Mota, M. C., & Crispim, C. A. (2022, June 30). Role of chronotype in dietary intake, meal timing, and Obesity: A Systematic Review. OUP Academic. Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://academic.oup.com/nutritionreviews/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/nutrit/nuac044/6623541
Thom, G., & Lean, M. (2017, February 15). Is there an optimal diet for weight management and metabolic health? Gastroenterology. Retrieved October 18, 2022, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0016508517301580
Duck, I have removed your post from Feedback Please.
You will receive feedback AFTER you make a specific request for the sort of critique you’re looking for. Be as clear as possible what I should be reading for. I cannot provide blanket feedback at this late date.
Can you look at how my paragraphs flow together and how I explain the quotes I used
Your paragraphs flow well enough from one to another, but my goodness how often they repeat the same evidence and conclusions! I was delighted about two-thirds of the way through to discover some new facts (and then a little dismayed to see that they’re not very thoroughly explained).
To take one example, you champion adiposity, seemingly, without saying what it is. In the first mention of it, we can’t even tell whether it’s supposed to be a good thing or not.
As for how you explain the quotes you used, I’d say the first six or seven all seem to lead to the same conclusion: that increased meal frequency results in three benefits again and again, weight loss, reduced obesity, and overall metabolic health.
As for this one:
I’d say you misstate the meaning of the quote.
You repeatedly promise that diets differ around the world and that cultural differences are essential, but without a single example of a cultural difference that relates to your thesis.
And after 3000 words and weeks of research, I expect you to be able to recommend a plan that would improve your readers’ health. It’s one thing to say, “eating 2000 calories right when you wake up or right before you go to bed is not the same as eating four 500 calorie meals throughout the day.” We accept that they’re “not the same,” but we’d love to know how and why they differ, and what we should do about it.
You write well, duck, and you’ve gathered some important information here. Earlier feedback requests would have prepared you better for a final round of revisions to polish this paper. But I’ll be happy to consider a Regrade if you have a chance to make significant Revisions.
You consistently make the punctuation error of placing periods and commas outside the close quotation marks.