The New York Times points out that although some studies have found modest health benefits to eating smaller meals, the research usually involved extremes.
Many weight-loss books and fad diets claim six meals a day is a more realistic approach.
But will it really make a difference?
The New York Times states:
“As long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well. One study that carefully demonstrated this, published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, involved groups of overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets and followed for eight weeks. Each subject consumed the same number of calories per day, but one group took in three meals a day and the other six.
Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety. Other studies have had similar results.”
Exercise, on the other hand, seems to effectively increase metabolism according to studies.
You’ve probably heard this advice many times: Eat smaller meals more frequently to lose weight. Unfortunately, science is still split on this issue. Some studies show a benefit to eating this way, while others find no discernible biological differences whatsoever.
So which advice should you follow?
Latest Research Shows No Weight Loss Benefit from Increased Meal Frequency
According to the study above, published in the British Journal of Nutrition at the end of last year, increasing meal frequency from three meals a day to three meals plus three additional snacks did not promote greater weight loss.
Both groups consumed an equal amount of calories (2931 kJ/day) and both groups ended up losing a little less than five percent of body weight after eight weeks.
Likewise, a previous study mentioned in the article above found no difference in energy balance between groups of people consuming either one meal or five meals in a two-week change-over trial.
So does that mean this is just another myth gone bust?
The Case for Eating Smaller Meals More Frequently
This recommendation is based on the theory that the more often you eat throughout the day, the faster you will rev your metabolism. And the faster your metabolism, the more calories your body burns throughout the day.
And although some studies, like the two just mentioned, concluded there was no difference between eating fewer or more frequent meals as long as the number or calories remained the same, other studies contradict these findings.
For example, a French study published in the journal Forum of Nutrition in 2003 found that people whose habitual diet pattern included a fourth meal – the so-called "goûter” or snack commonly eaten at 4 pm in France – had demonstrable benefits on Body Mass Index and metabolic profile, even though their total energy intake for the day is not greater than those who skip this meal.
“The "goûter", commonly eaten in the afternoon in France by most children and many adults, has the biological characteristics of a meal because it is eaten in response to hunger. Suppressing the "goûter" in "habitual fourth meal eaters" soon leads to an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI).
Further, people who are regular "goûter" eaters have a higher carbohydrate intake and better metabolic profile than other adults, even though their total energy intake is not greater.
Increased feeding frequency leads to a reduction in the total secretion of insulin, an improvement in insulin resistance and a better blood glucose control, as well as an improvement in the blood lipid profile.
The experts agreed that, as long as we do not consume more energy than we use up and we only eat when we are hungry, it may be useful to split our total energy intake into as many meals as our social pattern allows.”
One of the primary benefits I see mentioned here is the improvement in insulin resistance and blood glucose control.
Remember, optimizing your insulin regulation is of MAJOR importance, as that has a significant long-term impact not just on your weight, but on your overall health and chronic disease risk.
Personally, I believe there may be some benefit to eating smaller meals more frequently as it will likely help keep your blood sugar more balanced throughout the day.
Snacks, as long as they’re nutritious, of course, could also help you avoid overeating later because you’re ravenous and eat too quickly once you do sit down for a meal. It may also help you stick to healthier food choices in general, since many people tend to reach for fast food or quick and easy processed foods when they’re tired and hungry.
Let Common Sense Dictate Your Meal Frequency
In the end, perhaps the most prudent recommendation is to simply let your hunger dictate when to eat. An important caveat here though is to remember that WHAT you eat is essential.
If your body gets the nutrients it needs, your hunger will be a reliable indicator for when you need to eat. However, many people today are in fact undernourished, despite being overweight.
Consuming junk food and fast food that does not feed your body the nutrients it needs will often lead to eating far more calories than you need simply because your insulin- and other hormonal balances are out of whack.
As Dr. Rosedale explains in the article What You Don’t Know About Leptin Can Make You Fat, insulin and leptin work together to control the quality of your metabolism.
Metabolism can be roughly defined as the chemistry that turns food into life, and therefore insulin and leptin are critical to health and disease.
Insulin works mostly at the individual cell level, telling the vast majority of cells whether to burn or store fat or sugar and whether to utilize that energy for maintenance and repair or reproduction.
Leptin, on the other hand, controls energy storage and utilization, allowing your body to communicate with your brain about how much energy (fat) the cells have stored, and whether it needs more, or should burn some off.
Controlling hunger is one way that leptin controls energy storage.
Hunger is a very powerful and deep-seated drive that, if stimulated long enough, will make you eat and store more energy. The only way to eat less in the long-term is to not be hungry.
It has been shown that as sugar gets metabolized in fat cells, fat releases surges in leptin. It is believed that those surges result in leptin-resistance, as well as insulin-resistance.
Once you become leptin-resistant, your body loses the ability to effectively and accurately convey hunger signals, resulting in feeling hungry much of the time, even though you’ve consumed sufficient amounts of calories.
Sugar (and foods that convert into sugar, such as grain carbohydrates) is the main culprit in causing you to become leptin-resistant and should clearly be avoided, especially if you’re struggling with excessive hunger.
Instead, switching to a diet tailor-made for your individual biochemistry by eating for your nutritional type will optimize your overall health and leave you feeling satiated longer.
How to Really Super-Charge Your Metabolism
Just like the article above states at the end, the best confirmed way to really boost your metabolism is exercise.
When you exercise you clearly burn more calories, but you can super-charge your calorie burning mechanism even more by building muscle!
Why is this?
Because muscle demands energy to just “sit” on your body. Fat does not.
For every pound of muscle that you gain, your body burns 50-70 calories more per day. That means, if you gain 10 lbs. of muscle, your body will burn an additional 500-700 calories per day, and with proper diet, that equates to more or less guaranteed weight loss.
Everyone’s metabolism is different, but you can speed it up or slow it down within a reasonably short amount of time by making the following common-sense changes to your diet and lifestyle:
- Eat according to your nutritional type to ensure your body is getting the right fuel it needs
- Avoid sugar and grains as they are the leading cause of insulin- and leptin-resistance, which affects your hunger levels, your weight, and your risk of any number of diseases
- Listen to your hunger, and eat a healthy meal or snack when hunger calls
- Implement a well-rounded exercise regimen that includes strength training to build muscle, as well as interval training, which has been demonstrated to significantly increase fat loss
What Has Been Your Experience?
Like many areas in natural health there is no definitive answer and, ultimately, the correct conclusion is that “it depends”. I suspect that the answer to the headline of this article might fall into that area.
So let me know what you believe, and what your experience has been. By sharing you can help enlighten all of us as to what the answer to this question really is. It only takes a few moments to register to write a comment below.
Thanks in advance for sharing.