One of the most common weight loss tips I know states that you need to eat 5 – 6 meals a day in order to lose weight faster. The idea is that eating more meals gives you more metabolism boosts during the day, because your body has to use energy to process the food that you eat.
But is this true? Does a higher meal frequency really boosts metabolism or is this all a myth?
I decided to take a look at what the research has to say about this issue and to discover once and for all whether eating your calories in more meals really increases the amount of calories that you burn.
In this study, 8 people were given put on an eating plan with the same composition of macronutrients (fat, protein, carbs). There was one difference. One group of people ate the entire calorie amount in a single meal. The others ate it spread through 5 meals.
It should be noted that this was a calorie deficit experiment so all of the 8 subjects were supposed to lose weight. You would expect that the people who ate 5 meals would lose more weight than those who ate a single one, as the latter should have gotten a metabolism boost from the higher meal frequency.
However, the results dispel this myth. There was little to no difference in the weight loss achieved by both groups of people. Tests to measure their expenditure of energy showed little difference as well. There was simply no difference between these two groups of people. The number of meals changed nothing. You can read more about this study here.
The second study that looked at the question of meal frequency and its effect on metabolism examined 16 obese subjects, 8 men and 8 women.
The 16 individuals were divided into two groups. Everyone got the same amount of calories a day for 8 weeks. This was, again, a calorie deficit eating plan.
The 16 individuals were divided into two groups. One group of people ate their calories in 3 meals. The others ate them in 3 meals and 3 snacks.
At the end of the 8 week study, all the subjects were tested to see whether there was a difference in weight loss and energy expenditure. There was none. No differences were noted in metabolism or appetite control between the two groups. The people who ate 6 meals a day did NOT lose weight faster than those who ate 3. The amount of calories was what mattered, not the number of meals these calories were eaten in. Read the actual abstract of the study here
In this third study, a different meal pattern was examined: 2 meals vs. 7 meals a day. This is often referred to as the gorging pattern vs. the nibbling (or grazing) pattern.
The idea in this study was to measure how different meal frequency affected the way men made use of the nutrients they were fed. I won’t go into the full results of this study, though it may warrant an article on its own. Suffice it to say that there was NO difference in the energy expenditure of those who ate two meals a day and those who had seven. Read about the study here.
The idea that eating 5 – 6 meals a day will somehow boost your metabolism is a myth. It is based on theory and not on research. As I showed you, there are numerous studies that show that this is a false notion.
You won’t lose weight simply by eating more meals. Some people who like to eat just two big meals will do just as fine as long as you all eat the same number of calories and be as active as each other. As John Barban, a fitness trainer I recently interviewed told me, the best thing is to fit your diet into your lifestyle. This will make it a natural part of your routine and you’ll be more likely to succeed with it.
Don’t believe that eating more often will somehow make you drop pounds as if by magic. Research shows that it is simply not the case.
This doesn’t mean that eating 5 – 6 meals a day is bad or doesn’t have other benefits. What it does mean is that there is no direct connection to a higher calorie burning when your meal frequency is higher. This is simply a myth.