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Eating Schedule for Weight Loss

By Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D. ; Updated July 18, 2017

Eating regular meals, making healthy food choices and exercising regularly are important tactics for effective weight loss. Your total calorie intake is what determines how successful you’ll be losing weight; however, the frequency -- and size -- of your meals affect your total daily calorie intake.

Recommended Eating Frequency

Your eating schedule for weight loss may vary based on your day-to-day work and activity schedules but generally should consist of three meals and up to three snacks daily. A study published in 2011 in the “Journal of the American Dietetic Association” found that eating three meals and two snacks daily is effective for healthy weight maintenance. However, another study published in 2012 in “Obesity” found that body mass index and total calorie intake did not differ for individuals who at three meals daily and those who grazed throughout the day -- eating at least 100 calories every two to three hours.

Post Bariatric-Surgery Patients

If you’ve just had weight-loss surgery and are consuming a very low-calorie diet to shed pounds quickly, eating three small meals daily may be the most effective weight-loss strategy. A 2009 study published in the journal “Clinics” found that post bariatric-surgery patients lost more weight and consumed fewer calories when they ate three meals daily, compared with patients who ate six small meals each day.

Considerations for Hunger

If you’re eating three meals daily to lose weight and are feeling hungry on your weight-loss diet, try adding some snacks and eating about every three hours to avoid hunger. The 2012 study in “Obesity” reports that eating small meals or snacks every two to three hours reduces hunger more than eating three meals per day. If you eat more frequently, make the size of your meals and snacks small to effectively lose weight. Protein-rich foods -- such as lean meats, egg whites, soy products, seafood and low-fat dairy products -- boost satiety to help reduce hunger.

Calorie Needs

Regardless of the number of meals and snacks you include in your weight-loss meal plan, your total daily calorie intake -- and calorie expenditure -- determine how much weight you’ll lose. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest reducing your current intake by 500 to 1,000 calories daily to shed about 1 to 2 pounds per week. This often equates to 1,200 to 1,600 calories daily for many sedentary adults, notes the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and post bariatric-surgery patients may be advised to follow very low-calorie diets under medical supervision. However, the more active you are, the more calories you require to lose weight at a safe pace.

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