Hypoglycemia and the Myth of Eating Frequent Small Meals

By Dr. Ritamarie Loscalzo, MS, DC, CCN, DACBN
Do you suffer from excess belly fat, adrenal burnout, brain fog, or supposed hypoglycemia? If so, this article is for you.
Most people believe they need to eat frequently to avoid hypoglycemia. In fact, eating small, frequent meals has never been proven to accelerate weight loss or solve blood sugar imbalance, despite what many experts claim.
The majority of studies suggest that less frequent eating promotes more rapid weight reduction, improves growth of lean muscle mass, optimizes immune function and prevents the negative cardiovascular effects of having insulin levels elevated all day long.
What's more, most people who claim they're hypoglycemic (because they feel uncomfortable when skipping meals) don’t experience true hypoglycemia. Many of the people I’ve worked with have discovered that their blood sugar is actually high when they experience imbalance feelings… feelings they were misled into believing were symptoms of low blood sugar.
Many people do experience what’s known as “reactive hypoglycemia”, where their blood sugar plummets after being high (triggering too much insulin secretion) then going too low because of the over clearance of sugar from the blood due to high levels of insulin.

Why It’s Best to Space Your Meals Five To Six Hours Apart

The first three hours after you eat, your body produces a hormone called insulin. Insulin’s job is to clear the sugar from your blood and pass it on to your muscles and liver so they can do their job.
About an hour after eating, if your insulin level and blood sugar levels are starting to come down as they should, then growth hormone is released. Growth hormone, in the early post-meal stages, triggers the buildup of muscle protein, which is enhanced by the presence of insulin.
When insulin is activated, and when your body is functioning normally, your liver and muscles take on as much glycogen (your body’s storage form of sugar) as possible.

When Insulin is Active in Your Bloodstream, Fat Burning is Not Possible

About three hours after you eat a meal, your insulin level should be back down to where it was before your meal, and your liver begins to kick into high gear, mobilizing glycogen into blood sugar. At that point you begin to burn fats that are in you blood for energy, thus putting to good use fats that would otherwise go into storage as unwanted fat!
More than four hours after eating, growth hormone begins to mobilize fat for fuel. However, this use of fat for fuel only happens when insulin levels are very low.

Why Snacking Between Meals is Self-Sabotage

The period in between meals should be an opportunity for your liver to exercise and clear out glycogen. If you snack between meals or eat a meal too soon after the previous one, your liver’s exercise routine is blocked, thus setting you up for obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes.
When your liver doesn’t get enough exercise, it can synthesize excessive cholesterol, leading to elevated blood lipids even if the food you eat contains no cholesterol.
If your muscles are well toned, they will use up fat between meals much faster than untrained muscles. In fact, muscle tone can provide you the energy that you need to keep going all day long.
When you eat too soon after a previous meal, insulin levels rise too soon, turning off your liver’s exercise routine, inhibiting fat burning, and causing calories to be stored rather than burned. Plus, your energy will plummet and you may suffer from food cravings.
If you consistently eat meals too close together, you’ll cause your pancreas to fatigue, your insulin receptors to become resistant, and you’ll struggle with your weight.

If You’re Hungry Between Meals

Feeling weak or hungry sooner than five to six hours after eating a meal can be due to:
  • Not eating enough at the previous meal
  • Eating too many carbohydrates at the previous meal
  • Impaired digestion and absorption
  • Being out of shape
  • Weak adrenals
  • Sluggish and congested liver
  • Exhaustion
  • Diabetes
  • Insulin resistance
  • Leptin resistance
As you can see the biochemistry supports eating meals less frequently rather than more frequently. The ideal meal spacing gap appears to be five to six hours between meals with a 12-hour period between your evening meal and morning breakfast.

Support from Experts

According to Dr. Dennis Clark, author of The Belly Fat Book:

“The recommendation of eating six small meals per day, to keep the furnace burning hot, has become dogma in some circles. However, the common advice for frequent meals to keep the body’s furnace burning hot makes no sense physiologically or biochemically.”

In the book Eat Stop Eat, Brad Pilon quotes Dr. Tim Crowe, nutrition specialist at Deakin University in Melbourne, as saying that the six meal per day diet is a “faddish dieting trend, with very little research in support of it.” Crowe notes that some research suggests that playing around with when you eat may actually cause you to put weight on.
According to Pilon, 56 percent of adults eat between two to four times a day, while 37 percent eat five to seven times daily.
The “three meals per day” eating pattern becomes more critical for keeping a low body fat percentage as you age and your metabolism slows down. This slow-down can be partly corrected by regular strenuous exercise.

What To Do if You Have Hypoglycemia

If you think you can’t space your meals because you have hypoglycemia, think again.
Get a blood glucose meter and check your blood sugar between meals.
When hunger comes on too soon, stave it off with water flavored with essential oils or lemonade made with water, lemons, and a pinch of stevia if desired.
Make friends with hunger. It can be your friend.
Hunger indicates that your body is in fat burning mode. If you learn to tolerate a little hunger and gradually increase the space between meals, you’ll be rewarded by weight reduction, hormone balance, and improved blood lipids.
Give it a try. I have had patients who only did the meal spacing when we first started working together and began to release pounds that had, up until then, been stuck for a long time.
When it comes to meal spacing and what’s best, which do you want to believe? Modern day dogma or the science of how your body works?
Ready to get your blood sugar under control and love your new flat belly, clear mind and endless energy?
Click here for instant access to five videos, each with an action step you can take right away. A 90 minute webinar outlines the steps of a complete 30 day metabolic reset that’ll double your energy, boost your mental clarity, and melt away belly fat.

17 Comment(s)

  1. I am guilty of frequent "snacking." Even though the snacks are healthy, I can see now they are not a good thing for my metabolism. I generally keep my type 2 diabetes controlled by eating a diet of raw veggies with nuts, seeds, sun-dried tomatoes, kelp, spirulena, chlorella, ACV and olive oil, but one major salad per day surrounded by multiple small bouts of nibbling is not giving my system a rest. I'm convinced. I'm to make hunger my friend! This is a significant piece of information, and I thank you. :)

    Bobbie Jo | Reply

  2. I have begun doing this myself and can see the results when I go with three meals and leave out the snacks! My question is about children. I have a three yr old and a two yr old that eat granola that I make full of nuts, seeds, germ and coconut that is low in sweetener (no refined sweeteners at all) and about 5 oz of green smoothie made from water greens and fruit; and after all that they're complaining of hunger by 10am. Are their metabolisms just that quick? Neither of them have ever been "chubby" they are long and lean. I would love to see a post like this about children and I would love to hear example of what Dr. Ritamarie fed her boys as toddlers!!! Thanks for this post and for all of the great info!

    Britni | Reply

  3. My church – Seventh-day Adventist – encourages a vegan lifestyle. Our health message also supports a two-meal a day regimen. Thanks for sharing this message and the existence of empirically-based research on the matter.

    Uzoma | Reply

  4. great information and totally true – HOWEVER, in chronic disease state (eg -Lyme's, adrenal exhastion, etc) MORE frequent meals are necessary to prevent loss of muscle mass. Your body digests protiens and stores fats and carbs in your sympathetic nervous system – eating less frequently during this metabolic stress causes severe damage. A more practical and realistic approach for those suffering from chronic or severe illness is frequent, nutrient filled foods. THEN, once out of the crisis phase, further correction of the metabolic disturbance can be reached through the above method. Knowing when to eat and what to eat is individual. Always work toward the ideal, but be realistic and in tune with your body as well. Lauren Mazzio, Eden Veganite

    lauren | Reply

  5. Sorry, I disagree with what you say here. . You NEED to read the research of Dr. Gabriel Cousens – - the best there is on this subject regarding Fast and Slow Oxidizers.  We do not all fit into one category.  And some of us DO need to eat more often. . 
    Sorry, but you're just WRONG. 

    Chris | Reply

  6. From Dr. Ritamarie:
    Hi Chris. Actually I do agree that people are all different. I have read Cousens work
    on fast and slow oxidizers and indeed take it into consideration. The best
    way to know is to test. And that’s what we do in my B4 Be Gone program.
    Everyone gets taught to use a blood sugar meter and to track their energy
    throughout the day to determine the optimum meal composition and meal

    Fast oxidizers return to baseline insulin much sooner than slow oxidizers
    and thus do better with more frequent meals.

    And of course it makes a difference what is eaten too. A snack of celery
    and almond butter will keep sugar steady whereas a sweet snack will raise
    sugar and insulin.

    What I have found in my practice is that most overweight people need to
    space their meals. People with weight loss resistance need to space their
    meals. Of course there are exceptions to every generalization because we
    are all unique.

    Underweight people, athletes who burn a lot of calories and active kids tend
    to be in the category of needing to eat more frequently. These people
    generally fall into the Cousens fast oxidizer category. People with
    resistant weight loss and excess belly fat tend to need to spread their
    meals out. Unfortunately they are being dogmatically taught to eat more
    frequently and it’s hurting them. What I object to in the popular literature
    and fitness trainer circuit is the dogma that insists on small frequent
    meals even when it’s clear it’s not working for the person in question. Too
    many people are getting BAD advice .

    Thanks for reminding me about Cousen’s brilliant work.

    admin | Reply

  7. This is very interesting.  I personally find that if I eat a really good breakfast (fruit, whole grains, yogurt) at around 7:30, I can wait until 12:30 or 1:00 to eat a good lunch.  Sometimes I do eat a snack mid-afternoon, but I'll try to simply make sure that I have a well-rounded lunch and eat enough to wait until dinner.  However, in South America, that can be a challenge, as it is tradition to east a snack and then not eat dinner until 8:00 pm or later.  This may be because we walk and work very hard, though, so I'll continue to listen to my body, and adjust as necessary.
    BTW, I think there is a little typo in the paragraph above "Support From Experts".  The first sentence is reversed.
    Thanks again for sharing details that help the layperson understand the complex workings of the human body.

    Mcooks | Reply

  8. Any Nutritionist, Dietician and Bio-Chemist would completely disagree with this article. The reason why most eat 5-6 meals a day (such as anybody who trains regularly, athletes, bodybuilders, etc) is to stimulate metabolism. ANYBODY who has gone to univeristy and has studied the basic functions of the body and metabolism knows this.
    What kind of doctor wrote this exactly?

    Amelie | Reply

  9. Very interesting, are the meals generally at the same times each day, like breakfast and dinner? 

    Lisa | Reply

  10. Thanks for your research.

    Mike | Reply

  11. Perhaps it's not only how often you eat but also what you eat when you eat.  I personally do well when I drink water until late morning, even noon, and eat a fruit breakfast, then eat a meal of salad and 'something' later.  What I am learning now is how very little food I really need.  

    Patricia Robinett | Reply

  12. this information is very logical. I wonder what would be the effect of fruit snacks between meals? Will be there harmful effects?

    Valery | Reply

  13. You are absolutely correct.  We are  not all the same, or at least not the same at all points in our lives.  During the beginning of menopause, I suddenly experienced the world's worst case of low blood sugar and without any obvious dietary cause.  I could eat and eat, good food, at regular mealtimes, with sufficient protein, too, of course, but the symptoms of hypo were merely reduced, not removed.   The condition then faded away after a few months.  So I decided to eat as many times a day as I felt the urge to do.  Better that I should pass out? 

    Wyandotte | Reply

  14. i have had M.E, for 15yrs, have been vegan for 6 yrs and increasingly raw over last 3-4yrs.  i can happily graze away at apples and bananas throughout the day, especially as i am not working currently.  i eat a huge salad in the evening, and make my own muesli for breakfast.  i think i eat too much, although hav e lost 30lbs over 3 yrs – it is now creeping back on!  i worry about what constant grazing is doing to my body not to mention my teeth. i wouldnt want to go more than 3hrs with no food but find that difficult unless i am busy – i wonder if eating is becoming a habit!  i am 61 and otherwise healthy.

    maggi | Reply

  15. Enjoying this discussion. I try to space my gluten free, mostly vegan, mostly raw meals into this time frame. Sometimes it's too long between lunch (12 noon  - teacher on a school schedule) and dinner which is sometimes later than 7pm. In this case, I try to have a snack of celery and humas. I do check my blood sugars and find my lowest is late afternoon (65 – 80). My morning blood sugars are often times higher than when I go to sleep and I'm trying to figure out why. It's a puzzlement. 
    I, too, would like to hear more about young children and their needs, both for my students and for my grandchildren. Thank you. 

    Marcey | Reply

  16. HI Bobbie Jo,   regarding how often to feed your children you may want to contact Dr. Olin Idol at hallelujah acres as he shares nutritional information for babies and children.   http://www.hacres.com

    Barbara | Reply

  17. I am one of those that snacks all day long.  Your article makes sense to me.  Starting today I am going to eat just three meals and no snacks.   I can't wait to see if it makes a difference.  Thanks!

    Patty | Reply

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