If you’ve been dieting you have probably read or heard from numerous people mention that one of the secrets to weight loss is to eat 6 meals a day.
The belief is that frequently eating small meals throughout the day will increase your metabolism to burn fat, and keep the cravings at bay and better control your sugar.
The hope is that you will eat less and lose weight. However, recent research questions if this theory actually works!
Medical research from Harvard reports that there is an inverse association between weight and eating frequency. Simply put, the heavier someone is, they eat less often.
Literature supports that normal weight people who maintain their weight eat four meals a day. But this research is not enough to support that we should eat more meals for weight loss.
On the contrary, although consuming smaller, more frequent meals is often advocated as a means of controlling body weight, some studies show that there is no advantage in terms of its effects on metabolism and appetite, and may, in fact, even have adverse effects on hunger and satiety.
An extensive literature review was done in 2015 that reviewed 15 studies to assess the correlation between meal frequency with respect to changes in fat mass and lean mass.
Interestingly, the study showed that the positive relationship between the number of meals consumed and improvements in body composition were largely attributed to the results of a single study.
Moreover, the small difference in magnitude of effect between meal frequencies suggests that any potential benefits, if they exist at all, have limited practical significance in weight loss.
Interestingly, a study in 2011 assessed the effect of high protein meals versus increased meal frequency in weight loss and appetite control. It was shown that the higher protein meal group compared to the normal protein meal group experienced lower late-night desire to eat and preoccupation with thoughts of food.
The data suggests that consumption of high protein intake, but not greater eating frequency, led to improved appetite control and satiety in overweight/obese men during energy restriction-induced weight loss.
What is the Best Way to Lose Fat?
Ultimately, the point of these studies is that it is not about how many meals you eat, it’s about how much and what you eat.
You need to cut your total calories in for the day and burn more than you eat.
You can eat more meals if you want, or stick to three meals, but you need to have a reduced caloric intake to lose fat.
Why Should You Eat 6 Meals Per Day?
Now that we debunked the myth that eating more meals will not increase your metabolism or help burn fat, why should you still eat multiple meals? Well, if you find yourself struggling to keep you appetite at bay, smaller meals can help you reduce your craving. By keeping yourself full, you are less likely to cheat on your diet. This is why eating breakfast is so important to your diet. After fasting for almost 6-8 hours, you wake up starving. If you eat a nutritious breakfast, you may keep yourself full so you are less likely to snack throughout the day.
You also keep your blood sugar better controlled so you don’t have a hormone imbalance causing you to overeat.
What Should You Avoid When Eating Smaller Meals
Snacking is bad – when it is not planned. When you feel hungry you can eat anything.
If you find that you get hungry often, plan your meals so you avoid overeating or cheating on your diet.
For example, if you know you struggle to keep your appetite under control between breakfast and lunch, then back a healthy protein bar or yogurt to eat between those meals.
The best foods to snack on throughout the day are yogurt, granola, salads, protein shakes or bars, oatmeal, fruits, fiber cereal, or nuts.
All these snacks contain high amounts of protein and fiber so you can stay satiated. Avoid getting anything that is packaged as they will have salts and extra sugar.
Stay away from the cafeteria when you are hungry because you will be tempted to buy a muffin which will load on the calories!
Packing your own food is the best way to stay on your diet because you know exactly how many calories are in your food. In all your meals ensure you have plenty of protein, fiber and of course fruits and vegetables. Eat them up guilt free.
Remember, it’s not about how many meals you eat. The key to success in dieting is reducing your total caloric intake. So keep those calories low and your waistline will be slim too!
Rajiv M Mallipudi, md, mhs is an internal medicine resident physician, personal trainer, athlete and author. He has over a decade of personal training experience and helped hundreds of clients of all levels achieve their weight loss and fitness goals. This inspired him to work as a clinical researcher at the nationally recognized, Johns Hopkins Hospital Weight Management Center. During medical school he and his classmates created the health and wellness organization, med fit, which provided personal training and nutrition counseling to the medical student body. In his spare time, Dr. Mallipudi enjoys playing ice hockey, dancing, and training for his next bodybuilding and powerlifting competitions. Dr. Mallipudi serves as a contributing writer for the Diet and Fitness sections.
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