I’ve been overweight all my life and lost a significant amount of weight a few years back.
The reliable literature at the time advocated the many-small-meals formula. I find that works best for me, for a number of reasons.
First, before I started that last plan, the times when I gained the most weight were the times when I ate no breakfast, small lunch, and significant dinner. If I ate the same amt of calories more or less but more spread out during the day, I was less prone to gain weight.
Second, eating something, even a 100-calorie balanced snack, at least every 3 to 4 hours helped me get back in touch with real hunger. It’s complicated and sounds counter-intuitive, but by eating breakfast and eating regularly, I actually learned to distinguish “my body needs a little fuel” from “ravenous stomach-rumbling.” You say that eating small meals feels like force-feeding when you’re not hungry, but if you have a significant weight problem, I would bet that you’ve lost touch with the more subtle range of signals.
Third, by keeping my blood sugar on a more even keel, I learned to perceive those small dips, and feed them, thus keeping myself from getting that “oh my god I’m starving” feeling that then led me to eat too much. (This relates to re-learning the difference between “enough food for now” and “full.”)
Fourth, I do believe (personal experience, which backs up what I’ve read) that my metabolism runs better when I’m eating frequently. It’s the old stoking-the-fire analogy.
Fifth, I simply feel better when I eat meals/snacks vs. a couple of bigger meals per day. It’s not just avoiding the shakes or whatever, it’s about optimal vs. “ok.”
Sixth, any serious athlete has a regimen about what types of food to have before and after a workout to get maximum energy to DO the workout and get maximum muscle-building and fuel replenishment after. I don’t advocate that all techniques used by athletes should be mimicked by the general public, but there’s sense here: Body needs fuel to do stuff, and to rebuild muscle and fuel stores after. You want an overall deficit if you’re trying to lose weight, but Body likes fresh fuel types throughout the day and to burn off stored fat in little spurts.
Finally, one thing that diabetics are advised to do is eat small, frequent meals. Even if doing so doesn’t have a damn thing with losing weight, it’s still healthier than having one huge insulin dump per day.