Post by Emily White
Read any health or wellness magazine and you will no doubt read about how you should be constantly grazing in order to boost your metabolism. When you think about it, it kind of makes sense that eating frequent, small meals would continuously stimulate your metabolism and therefore keep you burning more calories…… right?
So apart from being incredibly inconvenient (I struggle to come up with 3 meal ideas let alone 6) is there any benefit to eating smaller meals more frequently as opposed to the traditional 3 meals a day?
Well, new research is suggesting no!
This is all down to the relationship between hormone sensitive lipase (HSL) and insulin. HSL is an intracellular lipase that is capable of hydrolyzing a variety of esters. In the cell you have triglycerides made up of a glycerol backbone and two fatty acids. HSL is responsible for cutting off the fatty acids so they can be used within the muscle cell or in the case of adipose tissue- allows them to be used as fuel (1).
In short, HSL is the key that unlocks the door to your fat cells, thereby when it is not active, fat burning is halted! (1)
Now hormone sensitive lipase, as the name suggests, is very sensitive to insulin. A very small rise of insulin is all it takes to inhibit HSL (2). When we have a meal, we produce insulin and go above the level where HSL can remain switched on. So if we are constantly eating (every couple of hours), the time in which HSL is rendered inactive is increased thereby the opportunity to release stored fat is greatly reduced.
To put it simply:
Constant grazing—> Constant level of insulin above where HSL is active —> inactive HSL —> Decreased fat burning ability!
Many people’s response to this would just be to eat less carbohydrates (as carbohydrates are what is responsible for a rise in insulin right?). Almost, but it is more complicated than that. Protein is also sufficient to cause an increase in insulin, as is fat when consumed with protein (3). And because the level of insulin required to halt HSL is rather small, even a meal devoid of carbohydrates can still have this effect.
So what does all of this mean for someone wanting to lose fat?
Taking advantage of this knowledge and reducing your feeding windows could be all it takes to shift those last stubborn kilos. This is could be the reason why so many people benefit from intermittent fasting, as simply reducing the feeding window can increase the time that HSL can be active. For more information on the benefits of fasting you can read this blog post here.
So what can you do?
If you feel your fat burning has halted, simply sticking to the classic 3 larger meals a day instead of 6 smaller meals can be beneficial for many people. For others, intermittent fasting may be more appropriate.
This of course is a fact of what works for you may not work for others so it is important to experiment. If you are at a weight you are a happy with, you feel good and your blood profile is healthy there is no reason to change anything. However, if you are looking to lose a bit of fat or get rid of those last stubborn kilos and are already eating a consistently natural, whole and unprocessed diet, just reducing the frequency of feeding could be all it takes!
Research and popular science articles by the members and faculty of the Holistic Performance Institute.