Myth: Eating small meals more frequently keeps your metabolism revved and your body burns more fat because of that.
Reality: Meal size has no bearing on fat burning—weight loss is achieved according to overall calorie intake throughout the day.
Newsflash: You have been lied to, America! For years who hasn’t heard, “Eat a bunch of small meals throughout the day, and it will help you lose weight.” This made sense, so I shared the information as fact to my friends. Turns out, this isn’t exactly what I would call “the truth.” The idea behind this philosophy is that eating “revs up” your metabolism, so consuming little snacks throughout the day will supercharge your metabolism; you won’t ever be weighed down with a heavy meal, and you’ll be able to lose weight by eating!
Unfortunately, the whole “scientific community” wouldn’t agree with this. Bonnie Liebman, nutrition direction at Center for Science in the Public Interest stated, “If there are any good studies proving this point, they certainly aren’t well established.”
Turns out that the underlying issue which will determine your weight loss is the same basic principle we have heard since, well, forever: calories in versus calories out.
In a recent study, researchers had people on the exact same food intake but divided that calorie count into a different number of meals. Guess what happened? No difference between the three square meals a day versus multiple small meals. In fact, the people who had six meals had a stronger desire to eat more!
This study revealed the false foundation for the small meals diet theory comes from misunderstanding that our bodies actually work just as hard (and burn the same amount) during digestion, regardless of whether it’s a small or big meal. Our bodies are so awesome and efficient, we thought for years that our metabolism would rev up regardless of what or how much we ate. However, our bodies aren’t so easily fooled. It turns out, your body works only as hard as it needs to to digest the food you put in. If you eat one meal with a standard serving size, your body works to digest that. If you divide the serving size into three meals, by the end of the third one, your body will divide its work to digest that meal into thirds. It will end up putting the same total amount of effort out whether the meal is consumed in one sitting or three; it will not exert three times the amount of effort.
Just to add some fuel on the fire behind this argument, there was a recent article on CNN medical where they dive into a study in the Czech Republic, where they had people consume two large meals versus six small meals, and guess what? The two large meals fared better on weight and fasting blood glucose. As their “medical experts” state, “Most of us consume the majority of our day’s calories late at night when we’re the least active, when we’re not active, our insulin sensitivity drops.”
To second this point, when you’re constantly eating your body will consistently release insulin, basically your body tries to store sugar, and not break down fat. When in reality you want your body to be in a post-absorptive phase, when it uses your energy storage and burns fat.
While the number of calories you take in compared to the number of calories you burn will ultimately determine weight loss, examine where those calories are coming from and that will determine the results. One of the strongest indicators that you can control is time of the day; people who eat in the morning tend to lose more weight than those who skip a meal to start the day. There are several factors which contribute to helping you lose weight, but going to more meals isn’t going to be one of the winning ones.
At the end of the day, you want to try to find the smartest ways to have an easy diet. Eating a few solid meals, at regularly scheduled times (upon waking, afternoon) seems to have the best impact on your results. Also, what you actually eat will go a long way, so sorry, but no Cinnabon just ‘cause it’s breakfast time!