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Is it Better to Fast or Eat Small Meals? Weight Loss Perspective

6 min read
a comparison of two meals based on different diet approaches, intermittent fasting and eating small meals throughout the day, is it better to fast or eat small meals
Melissa Mitri post Reviewer Melissa Mitri post Reviewer
Verified by Melissa Mitri
MS, Registered Dietitian, Former President of CT Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics

Table of Contents

If you’ve been trying to melt off excess fat for some time, you probably know the most challenging part is finding the best weight loss method that suits you. 

When it comes down to weight loss, there is no one way to lose weight. It’s a classic situation of ‘no one size fits all’. 

While some people swear by intermittent fasting, some put their faith in the ketogenic diet. Some others try eating small frequent meals throughout the day in hopes of reviving their metabolism and slimming down. 

One of these strategies can work for you, and it’s just a matter of choosing the best one. 

Today, we will compare two popular weight loss approaches: intermittent fasting vs. small, frequent meals. Does eating every 2 hours work? Is it better to fast or eat small meals? Read on as we dissect both of these methods and give our verdict. 

Intermittent Fasting as a Weight Loss Strategy

Intermittent fasting, or IF, has been recognized as a successful weight loss strategy among dieters as well as nutritionists. It has, in fact, been proven to produce a loss of 7-11 pounds within 10 weeks [1]

In essence, intermittent fasting works by restricting the duration in which you eat. Limiting your eating window and extending your fasting window helps your body use up its available glucose reserves. This results in your body burning fat for fuel [2]

This phase, known as ketosis, prompts fat loss, which results in weight loss [3].  

There are several different IF routines you can try depending on your experience and endurance level. 

Fasting methods such as 16/8 are beginner-friendly, while some methods, such as alternate-day fasting, call for more willpower as they entail extended fasting durations. 

Most of these fasting techniques can bring about effective weight loss if you stay consistent. After all is said and done, what it boils down to is your commitment to the fast. You need to be careful to choose one you can stick to in the long run. 

In that sense, the best approach is to start with a shorter fasting duration and keep gradually extending the fasting window until you see the best results.

Benefits of intermittent fasting for weight loss

Intermittent fasting can offer the following weight loss benefits:

  • Improving metabolism through metabolic switching from the burning of glucose to fat burning [4]
  • Reducing fat mass—especially visceral fat mass, the fat around your belly [5]
  • Improving insulin resistance and thus promoting weight loss [6]
  • Reducing appetite thus cutting down overall calorie intake [7]

Eating Small Meals Frequently as a Weight Loss Strategy

Scientists have speculated that small, frequent meals can lead to increased fat loss and help better manage weight [8]. The theory behind this idea is when you eat multiple small meals throughout the day, you will feel satiated [9] and thus will refrain from overeating. 

Some studies also have looked into the thermic effect of food ( the number of calories it takes to digest a meal) [10] to determine if a higher meal frequency results in a higher total calorie burn for digestion.

This method can be suitable for those who find it hard to fast for extended periods or for those people who can’t fast because of some underlying medical conditions. 

However, the research studies that evaluated this method of eating show mixed results [8]. While some studies report that eating small meals frequently during the day can be beneficial for weight loss [11], others show it doesn’t promote any more weight loss than a traditional calorie-restricted diet [12]

Benefits of eating small meals every 2-3 hours for weight loss

Here’s how eating small meals is thought to help weight loss:

  • Eating frequently will make you feel full and improve your satiety throughout the day.
  • Since you’ll be eating every 2-3 hours, your energy levels will stay stable.
  • Your blood sugar levels won’t dip too low and this can prevent you from getting too hungry at times.
  • These factors will work together to prevent you from over-eating, thus eliminating the risk of weight gain.

So, Which One is Better for Weight Loss: Fasting or Small Meals?

So which method should you follow: intermittent fasting or eating 6 small meals? As we said in the beginning, it depends on the individual.

While both methods have been proven to bring successful results, you need to find the best practice that matches your lifestyle and preference. 

That being said, if you’re thinking about trying out eating every 2 hours to lose weight, keep in mind that some studies cast doubt on this method. For instance, one study reported that eating 6 meals per day increased hunger more than eating only 3 meals per day [13]

It also showed that the higher meal frequency did not promote any higher level of fat burning than the lower meal frequency. 

In the end, successful weight loss comes down to maintaining a calorie deficit. You need to spend more calories than you consume in order to lose weight. You can do this through both intermittent fasting and frequent small meals but you need to pay attention to the total number of calories you eat. 

These techniques rely on totally different principles but they can deliver the same results if you do them right. 

Most importantly, make sure you make healthy diet choices, especially if you follow the intermittent fasting pathway. Making nutritious choices will reduce the risk of nutritional deficiencies when you have a smaller eating window for your meals.

Bottom Line

  • So, is it better to fast or eat small meals? It depends. Either method can work if you are mindful of your calorie intake and follow the plan consistently. 
  • Both of these methods have their pros and cons. Weigh them out carefully before choosing the one that best works for you.
  • No matter which method you decide to follow, keep in mind that you need to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight. You can achieve this through any of these methods but keeping an eye on your calorie consumption and food choices will help you be the most successful.
Disclaimer This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

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