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Posted by on Feb 7, 2014 in Nutrition, Chewing It Over | 0 comments

Do you have to eat 6 small meals a day ?

Do you have to eat 6 small meals a day ?

kenWhen I was a newbie learning about nutrition through the mainstream channels, got cursed with 6-small-meals-a-day rule. Even thought the reasoning didn’t quite make sense, like a good girl, I naively trusted the pros, and therefore, was led like a sheep. These days we’re rather bad-assing it.

True that the Thermal Effect of Food (TEF) raises metabolism slightly and expends energy above resting metabolic rate to process food intake, but then wouldn’t it be the TOTAL amount and COMPOSITION of food that determine the SUM of energy utilized during a 24 hour period, rather than the frequency of meals?

This dietary myth, like many others, is an unsound conclusion based on observational studies, perpetuated by the fitness and health ‘experts’ as a FACT, who often forget correlation is not causation. Interestingly enough, even the association itself was refuted in two studies concluding that “increased MF (meal frequency) does not promote greater body weight loss”[1] and rather, the hypoenergetic regimens are responsible for any observed link [2].

What about:

Stoking the Metabolic Fire?  Meal frequency does affect TEF for each meal, but not the TOTAL amount. As you know, the body is not exactly an over-achiever and obsesses with efficiency as much as I do with the neighbor’s truck running idly in the summer.

You cannot trick your body to use more energy than it needs to. Any observed association between lower meal frequency and higher body weight in the general population, is more likely indicative of behavioral patterns rather than metabolism.

Hunger Control? The study responsible for promoting higher MF for appetite reduction [3] is criticized for being highly artificial and a poor representation of real life. A more recent study in 2010 concluded “that higher protein intake promotes satiety”, but with conflicting fullness-related responses, continued to “challenged the concept that increasing the number of eating occasions enhances satiety in overweight and obese men.” [4]. This means, jury is still out on this front.

Steadying blood sugar levels?  Contrary to what many people, including the gurus of diet and weight loss, seem to believe blood sugar is extremely well-regulated and maintained within a tight range in healthy people. Evolutionary consequences of regular periods of fast, and even famine, have endowed us with efficient pathways to regulate blood sugars levels. If you were to fast for 23 hrs and  go for a 90 minutes run, your blood sugar after the run would be identical to the same run performed in the fed state [5]. No one said anything about the run being enjoyable!

Cognition, activity, sleep, and mood are just dandy and not adversely affected even after a 48-hour-fast [6], since the brain adapts to the use of ketones. Check out those studies to see for yourself. Your blood sugar level is not a bi-polar Holly Wood teenage star that needs constant rehab.

Invalidating the high-meal-frequency dogma, does not mean it won’t promote weight loss or muscle gain. It just means, there are more efficient and healthier ways to change body composition, without having to submit to the inconvenience of preparing and eating food, every couple of hours, which may sound exciting at first, but believe me, it gets old.

People prone to binge eating may also find frequent small meals useful, since over a period of time, the stomach adapts by shrinking in size, making it rather hard for people to gorge.

orThere’s no doubt that meal frequency is highly individual, but there is no evidence that eating many small meals throughout the day is better than fewer, bigger meals, and therefore, absolute statements and prescription of it to everyone is uncalled for.

If anything better appetite control seems to come about with eating fewer and larger meals for most people as practiced around the world. Taraaa!



[1]  Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss
[2] Meal frequency and energy balance.
[3] Acute appetite reduction associated with an increased frequency
[4] The influence of higher protein intake and greater eating frequency on appetite control
[5] Metabolic responses to exercise after fasting.
[6] 2 day calorie deprivation: effects on cognition, activity, sleep, and interstitial glucose concentrations.

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