Intermittent Fasting vs Small Meals


There  is a lot of debate over which eating schedule is best, for example, intermittent fasting or small meals. But what does science say about these two popular eating strategies? How do you do it? Are they safe for your health? This article provides you with scientific evidence to help you decide on the right eating plan for you if you are considering losing weight or just simply trying to live a healthier lifestyle. 

What is intermittent fasting?

Intermittent fasting (sometimes referred to as time-restricted eating) is a type of eating strategy that alternates between not eating at all for several hours (fasting) and eating on a periodic schedule. 

Unlike many diets focused on what you eat, intermittent fasting pays close attention to your eating frequency, i.e. when you eat. The content of your meal is not the priority here and you are free to consume any food of your choice. 

In this type of eating cycle, some switch between eating and fasting each day for  16 hours,for example, only eating between 9 a.m and 5 p.m, while others cycle eating and fasting across several days, for example, fasting for 24 hours and eating your normal diet the day after the fast.1

Why it is good

Over the years, intermittent fasting has gained increased popularity as a strategy to maintain a healthy weight or lose excess weight. Adopting this eating strategy comes with various science-proven health benefits including:  

  • Minimising risk factors of insulin resistance  (a condition where the body has built up an insulin tolerance, making the hormone ineffective) which also aids in fat reduction and weight loss1
  • Limited food intake causes the body to tap into fat stores for energy which helps you to break down fat instead of muscle¹ 
  • Improving memory and thinking²
  • Positively affecting heart health as it helps to maintain blood pressure and prevent other heart-related issues²

The intermittent fasting regimen is also arguably relatively easy and stress-free to follow as you do not have to plan for ahead for many meals and as you are only eating once or twice a day, the workload of cooking meals is reduced.2

What are small meals?

Small meals is an eating pattern that allows you to consume multiple small meals throughout the day. 

The small, frequent meals eating plan breaks the traditional 3 square meals into 6 consuming 6 smaller meals that are spaced at least 2-3 hours apart. Unlike intermittent fasting, which focuses on when you eat, the small meal eating pattern focuses on what you eat and meal size (food content and portion size).

Small meals are also clinicallt used and recommended as a form of nutritional therapy for patients with anorexia and patients undergoing chemotherapy.³

Why they are good 

There are many benefits to consuming small meals throughout the day. Firstly, eating smaller, frequent meals will help to curb your appetite and keep your body nourished. It is also helpful for stabilizing blood sugar levels. 

Other benefits of consuming small meals include:

  • Creating a more efficient metabolism (the bodily process  where nutrients in food are converted into energy for the body) which is helpful  for weight loss/maintaining a healthy weight
  • Easier digestibility, which can help you feel more energetic and less bloated 
  • Avoiding overeating by spacing out thought-out meals throughout the day3

Smaller, often meals also help you to  burn more calories throughout the day. It is also important to payclose attention to the macronutrient (for example, carbohydrate and protein) composition in your small meal portions to ensure you are not exceeding your calorie needs.3

What happens when you choose to use one technique over the other? 

Although both plans are effective in helping you lose weight and maintain a healthy weight by reducing calorie intake, eating  small meals promotes healthy/wholesome calorie  intake because you focus not only on the frequency of meals but also on the content of the food eaten. Therefore, small meals may be arguably better for your overall health compared to intermittent fasting.3

Who can consume the smaller or larger meals?

Eating small frequent meals or adopting the intermittent fasting plan may be suitable for some and but notothers. The best way to find out is to try both plans and see which one works best for you.

It is recommended that people with digestion problems and those who suffer from bloating, vomiting or nausea adopt a diet of small, frequent meals  to ensure that they consume enough calories daily. 

Another group of people that are advised to use the small meals cycle are the elderly. A study carried out amongst elderly Americans confirms that eating smaller meals ensures that older adults get adequate nutrients needed for energy.

Other groups of people who are advised to consume small frequent meals:

  • Patients undergoing chemotherapy
  • People who have just undergone surgery
  • Individuals with a stomach ulcer 
  • People who aim to maintain a healthy weight or lose weight
  • People with diabetes and hypoglycemia 

It is important to note that processed foods should not be eaten when opting for the small meal plan.

Intermittent fasting is suitable for many people, but some groups of people should avoid it, especially pregnant women and breastfeeding mothers.

Before adopting any of these eating regimens, speak to your doctor.

Which is healthier? 

Both eating plans offer health benefits to the body. However, consuming smaller meals ensures that you eat healthy calories which aids in weight loss and muscle building. 

Regardless of the plan you choose, it's important to balance the calories in your meals (fewer calories for low activity and more calories for high activity). Burning these calories will eventually help you to lose weight. For best results, it ts also best to choose and strategy that best fits your lifestyle and to begin the diet regimen when you have enough time and energy to dedicate to forming the new habit.

Which technique can get you the fastest result? 

Both intermittent fasting and consuming smaller meals are capable of producing relatively fast results if you stick to their respective rules for long enough. This is because both strategies are aimed at reducing calorie intake which in turn leads to weight loss. 


If you are interested in starting intermittent fasting you can expect to see an improvement in many of your health concerns. If interested in small meals, this can be a great option for helping with your metabolic health. Before starting it is important to  consider timing, the content of your meal and portion sizes depending on the plan you choose as it is important to consume a balanced diet.

You may also consider speaking to a nutritionist for advice in choosing an eating regimen that works best for your health conditions (such as stomach ulcers, diabetes or other digestive/metabolic illnesses). You should also  consult your doctor if you regularly take certain medications before you adopt a new  eating pattern.


  1. Anton SD, Moehl K, Donahoo WT, Marosi K, Lee SA, Mainous AG, et al. Flipping the Metabolic Switch: Understanding and Applying the Health Benefits of Fasting: Flipping the Metabolic Switch. Obesity [Internet]. 2018 Feb [cited 2022 Sep 14];26(2):254–68. Available from:
  2. Intermittent Fasting: What is it, and how does it work? [Internet]. 2022 [cited 2022 Sep 15]. Available from:
  3. Nutrition and physical activity guideline for cancer survivors. CA A Cancer J Clinicians [Internet]. 2022 May [cited 2022 Sep 14];72(3):263–5. Available from:
  4. Jon Schoenfeld B, Albert Aragon A, Krieger JW. Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis. Nutrition Reviews [Internet]. 2015 Feb 1 [cited 2022 Sep 16];73(2):69–82. Available from:
  5. Zizza CA, Tayie FA, Lino M. Benefits of snacking in older Americans. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007 May;107(5):800–6. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Amanda Yad-El Ugboji

Bachelors of science Public- Bsc Public health, Babcock University, Nigeria

Amanda is a public health entrepreneur and content creator with a strong passion for health communications.
She enjoys using her skills to contribute to projects aiming for sustainable health for all and equity. Related to this, Amanda is passionate about public health education.
She has two years of experience as a freelance writer, and her other skills include writing, blogging and public speaking." presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
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