In the realm of diets, where recommendations come at us from every angle, it can be hard to know whose advice to follow. One thing that people hear conflicting views about is whether to eat frequent small meals or to fast and eat fewer big meals with long periods of time in between. While experts are still split, here’s an overview of the two opinions.
The Joys of Snacking
Frequent snacking became a phenomenon when dietitians started recommending it in the mid-2000s. The official line was that frequent smaller meals keep the body’s metabolism in high gear all day long and prevent some of the metabolism slowdown that can happen when the body is robbed of calories during dieting.
For some, frequent snacks may work quite well, although, for others who have issues with self-control and portion control, frequent snacking can easily turn into an excuse to eat all day long. It’s important to note that Mediterranean cultures, which are almost universally touted as being healthy and physically fit, tend to snack very little and instead have formal meal times when they sit down with family and friends.
Fasting (sometimes referred to as intermittent fasting) is a more recent trend and only became a phenomenon a few years ago. The rationale behind fasting is that the human body evolved to eat at infrequent intervals and that the constant availability of food in modern life is one of the reasons for widespread obesity.
The rules of different fasting diets differ, but the gist is that the person eats one or two big meals during their day, and then refrains from eating again until the next day. Drinks, as long as they’re not sugary, are usually allowed. Many people have reported success with these types of diets. One side benefit of limiting meals is that it makes it harder to exceed your daily calories — if you’re eating once or twice a day but trying to fit in a whole day’s worth of food, you’ll get full at some point, and that may make it easier to lose weight. But the benefits of fasting go beyond weight loss. Clinical trials have shown other benefits such as decreased cholesterol and improved insulin sensitivity. However, studies have also shown that intermittent fasting is also one of the hardest diets to stick to, which means many are likely to abandon it after a while.
Which one is better—frequent snacking or intermittent fasting? As with most things health-related, the truth is, there’s no right answer. Everyone’s body is different, and you could try both to see which works better for you. To be safe, you should consult with a registered dietitian or your doctor before undergoing any new dietary regimen.
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