Post by Emily White
You have heard it time and time again; if you are trying to lose fat and boost your metabolism eating small meals 6 times a day and always having snacks on hand is far superior over the traditional 3 meals a day. Personally I have always stuck to the 3 meals a day- not because I thought weight-wise one was superior over the other but because the thought of having to think of and prepare 6 meals every single day just makes me want to take a nap. So apart from being increasingly inconvenient are there any benefits to eating more frequently throughout the day?
The first argument for eating frequent, small meals is that you are constantly stimulating your metabolism, keeping it fast to ensure you are at your fat burning peak. However research is suggesting that that is just not true. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition has concluded that increasing meal frequency does not in any way promote greater weight loss over the traditional 3 meals per day (1). The theory is that when you are eating constantly, the thermic effect of breaking down food brings about a ‘metabolic boost’. However research suggest that the magnitude of this boost is dependent on the size of the meal- the larger the meal the larger the boost. Therefore one study suggested that there is absolutely no significant different to metabolic rate when eating 3 higher calories meals per day opposed to 6 lower calorie meals per day (2).
Another argument is that eating with a high meal frequency helps to balance your blood sugar levels and insulin response and therefore has improved benefits for weight control. However a recent study has suggested that this again is not the case. The study compared a low meal frequency diet and a high meal frequency diet and found that those consuming larger, less frequent meals had increased levels of satiety due to an increased inhibition of the satiety hormone Ghrelin (hormone that increases hunger) and also an increase in resting metabolic rate was seen in this group, which can be relevant for body weight control in the long term (3).
Another study showed that people who eat fewer, larger meals had lower blood glucose levels on average overall, which is relevant to metabolic disorder and normal functioning (4).
Therefore it becomes clear that there are very little benefits to eating more often as it doesn’t appear to raise your metabolism and stop it from getting ‘sleepy’ nor does it improve blood glucose control. Not only does having 3 meals (or even 2 for that matter) per day make your life easier it can also improve your levels of satiety which make adhering to your diet regime easier. The bottom line is simple. Listen to your body- if you are hungry eat- and if you are not, don’t. Do not feel like you have to eat when you first wake up if you aren’t hungry or because the clock says that it is ‘lunch time’. When you are full, stop. Like most things in life, keep it simple!
1. Cameron, J. D., Cyr, M. J., & Doucet, E. (2010). Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr, 103(8), 1098-1101. doi: 10.1017/s0007114509992984
2. Bellisle, F., McDevitt, R., & Prentice, A. M. (1997). Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr, 77 Suppl 1, S57-70.
3. Munsters, M. J., & Saris, W. H. (2012). Effects of meal frequency on metabolic profiles and substrate partitioning in lean healthy males. PLoS One, 7(6), e38632. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0038632
4. Holmstrup, M. E., Owens, C. M., Fairchild, T. J., & Kanaley, J. A. Effect of meal frequency on glucose and insulin excursions over the course of a day. European e-Journal of Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism, 5(6), e277-e280. doi: 10.1016/j.eclnm.2010.10.001
Research and popular science articles by the members and faculty of the Holistic Performance Institute.