To start with, conventional wisdom would have you eating 4-6 small meals per day. The thought behind that is that in doing this you will prevent yourself getting hungry. We all know that when we're hungry we make bad food choices (don't those urges for sugary foods really take over when you're hungry!?!?). So the idea seems sound. The difficulty is that there's not a huge amount of scientific evidence to back that up; there are few studies i can find that ask the question about small meals and their impact on food choice / hunger.
What has been investigated and what we are pretty sure about is that eating lots of small meals throughout the day will keep your blood sugar level pretty 'high' (how high depends on type of food). This is good in terms of preventing some types of stress on your body, but in other ways it's not good. High blood sugar levels mean you will have high insulin levels. To get this your pancreas has to work pretty hard throughout the whole day, with little 'rest'. The cells in your pancreas will eventually 'wear' out, and can lead to type 2 diabetes. High insulin levels throughout the day could also lead to type 2 diabetes. Your liver, muscle and eventually even your fat cells will become resistant to the insulin (and that's diabetes right there!). One last thing on high insulin levels - they'll put the brakes on any fat burn that you're after.
At the opposite end of the spectrum to this we have intermittent fasting (or IF). IF is where you'll fast for around 16 hours per day and allow yourself to eat in an 8 hour window. This normally leads to having 2 meals per day (lunch and dinner for most). Those of you that have read our blog for a while will know that we're fans of intermittent fasting, when used the right way. By that we mean that during your period of IF-ing you ensure that you are eating enough for the demands you are placing on your body. What's also important is to get enough vitamins and minerals in you, not just focusing on the 'energy' side of it. If you get it right then IF can lead your body to burn fat rather than sugar, help hormone imbalances, reduce insulin resistance, help break sugar addiction and help prevent / recover from many diseases.
When done wrong IF can have bad impacts on your body too. If you don't eat enough or get all the nutrients you need into your body then you'll be putting your body through stress - it has to work harder to make up for the lack of nutrients. This can and will cause a spike in your cortisol levels (stress hormone). Cortisol has many impacts on your body, most of which are positive in terms of running away from a tiger (quite a big hit of acute stress) but not so good when there's no 'obvious stressor'. Lack of proper nutrition is not an obvious stressor and means that it can sit there in the background for long periods of time (even decades). Long periods of time with elevated cortisol will have negative impacts - increased insulin resistance, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease to name a few.
So which one is best? What should you do? Well that's a difficult question to answer. As you can see there are positives and negatives to each one. Personally, we'd advise that if you're healthy and can do IF correctly then that's the way to go. If you're struggling with certain illnesses then you could compound things by doing IF, in which case smaller meals may be the key.
Ultimately we'd advise giving them both and go and see which works for you. We expect that most people will find IF best suited to them, but not everyone. As mentioned above, and in a previous post, IF can be effective at counteracting the negative impact our western lifestyles have made on our bodies. High sugar, high processed and low nutritional value food coupled with a sedentary lifestyle are a dangerous combination!