Should you eat 5x a day?

Posted on March 15, 2011. Filed under: Nutrition |

A colleague with an online training business once told me the key is to be ‘polarizing.’  Politically incorrect, but not overtly rude.  This will allow you to make statement, an impact, and acquire clientele.

To be fair, he is a living example of this philosophy.

He has written multiple articles, and is known for not mincing words.  This led to online discussions, debates, and increased business for his services.  Controversy sells, and this does tend to be the trend in our industry.

If you look at any fitness site, they are always telling you what you absolutely should or absolutely should not do.  I would try my hand at this except I have a flaw.  I don’t believe in absolutes.  There is always an anomaly, or an exception.

However if I notice something tends to work for the vast majority in my experience, say 80%, I will usually apply those guidelines to all clients in the beginnings and then adjust based on their response.

One of those guidelines is the multiple meal philosophy.  If you have talked to any would-be fitness expert, they will always talk about how you need to eat 5 or 6x a day.  This is one of those bits of advice which has merit, but has been taken out of context.

They will tell you, you’ll lose fat faster, boost your metabolism, aid your digestion, gain muscle faster, leap tall buildings in a single bound, and other wondrous benefits.

Let me be clear, if you are eating 3 meals a day, or 6 meals a day.  If the caloric intake, and nutrient make-up is similar, there is NO difference.  When scientific study has examined this they found no proof of any benefit for eating multiple time a day.  None, zilch, zip, nada, nothing special.

And when you run into someone who advocates this, they will point to the studies with conviction.  Then they will tell you how their diet philosophy is better.  Intermittent Fasting, Rotation dieting, or 3 square meals with their miracle product. 

So what do I advise my client to do?

Eat 5-6x a day.

Confused?  That’s understandable.  After all I jut told you there is no scientific reason for eating 5x a day.  Why would I do that?

Reason is, this isn’t about scientific study, it’s about what can actually be applied in the real world, and what fits my client lifestyle.

Yes, scientifically eating food is basically calories in, calories out.  But for us as human  beings it is so much more.  There are so many emotions connected to food.  It is part of our daily habits.  It is a source of pleasure and stress relief.  It has historical meaning both in our religious and cultural ceremonies.  The right combination of tastes or smell of food can bring back memories of your greatest joy or deepest pain.  Confining the idea of food to a mere mathematical equation is both short sighted and in my opinion lazy on behalf of any supposed trainer or coach.

And it’s because of that, and the following reasons I advocate for my client to eat often through out the day.

  • Limit feelings of deprivation

Chances are when we start on a program I am going to tell you to cutback on, or eliminate some food item you like.  Be it white bread, cake, smoothies, alcohol, eventually I am going to have you cutback on something to accomplish your goal.  In the beginnings with clients, I find they tend to focus on what they can not have.  If they feel restricted to only eating three times a day, that leaves a lot of time to think about what they are not eating, and what they want to eat.  Having them eat more often helps when making the transition of habits to begin with.

  • Planned Awareness 

A big factor for those trying to get in shape is to avoid unconscious eating.  This happens when our main attention is elsewhere and we eat whatever is around without thought to portion size.  I have seen many tips to  avoid this.  Don’t eat in the car, don’t eat in front of the TV, don’t have unhealthy food lying around in the open on your desk.  I find when a person has to eat 5-6x a day they have to plan for it.  and by planning they gain an awareness of what they are putting in to their mouth and thus the body.

  • Avoid previous bad habits 

Although it does happen periodically, usually when a person comes to me to help them lose fat, gain muscle, or both.  Chances are they have tried to do it at least once before on their own.  Now there are a myriad of reasons why they did not accomplish their goal.  For some, reasons are the cravings I mentioned previously.  For others, they take it to far to the extreme end on the other side and don’t eat.  If one is doing a planned fast that is another matter entirely.  But if one has a habit of running through their day and not eating this will eventually catch up with them.  Either they will hit a wall energy wise where they end up eating or taking whatever is handy to perk themselves up.  Or they could end up doing damage to their metabolism, and  making their overall goals harder to accomplish.

As a coach it is my job to get the best results for my client and maintains the highest regard for their health.  And if a certain method I find does not help me with that, regardless of how sound it may be, I will not apply it.

I have clients who do low carb, Paleo, high carb, eat 6x a day, eat 3x a day, I have even worked with vegans.  For most clients the difference i moot, and more so about what works best for them lifestyle wise.  If I am training an athlete, than I must apply a more structured regimen, but still I consider the client’s input.

So if you wish to eat 3x a day, go ahead.  Eat 6x a day, fine.  Wish to utilize fasting, wonderful.  All can be applied in their proper structure, all can be effective.

And anyone who says different, is probably trying to sell you something 😉

Best Health

Coach W

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