The Fat Loss Series Continues!
Fat Burning Myth #3:
“Eating 6 small meals per day (vs. 3 larger meals) will ramp-up your metabolism and burn more fat.”
Surprised? Let’s dive in deeper and debunk possibly one of the longest standing dogmas in the fat loss world…
To be honest, there really isn’t any harm to believing this myth, unless, of course, planning and trying to fit in 6 meals each day causes you an immense amount of stress and is completely impractical to your lifestyle.
Then I would argue it’s doing you harm.
But don’t take my word for it, here’s a look at the research on the subject.
According to a study measuring the effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger, there was NO significant increase in the amount of calories burned or the amount and rate of fat oxidized when eating 6 meals per day compared to only 3.
Where did this fat loss myth originate?
The basic premise of this myth came from the idea that the thermic effect of feeding (TEF), which is the calories burned during the digestion of food, would increase with increased meal frequency.
Although some short-term studies suggest that the thermic effect of feeding is higher when meals are split into many throughout the day, other studies have equally refuted this finding.
On average, the normal TEF of a typical mixed-macronutrient diet is 10% of your overall energy expended during the day.
So if you burned a total of 3000 kcal today, you can estimate that 300 kcal came from digesting your food alone.
This percentage does NOT change, however, with the frequency of meals (assuming an isocaloric intake). So if you ate 6 meals at 500 kcal each that would be 6X500X10% = 300 kcal of TEF.
Versus 3 meals at 1000 kcal each, that would be 3X1000X10% = 300 kcal of TEF. There’s no difference.
Of course, if you increase your total calorie intake from 3000 to 4000 kcal, now you will expend 400 kcal on TEF. But that doesn’t have anything to do with meal frequency – it has everything to do with eating more food.
So what’s going on here?
There is observational evidence that some people lose more weight eating 6 meals per day vs. 3 meals.
Well, researchers concluded that the effect of meal frequency on weight loss had MORE to do with hormonal changes in appetite which decreased food intake, NOT from a direct metabolic advantage.
In simple terms, eating more frequently keeps your blood sugar stable and decreases the drastic waves of cortisol and insulin in between meals, which reduces cravings and overeating.
So what is the takeaway here?
If you feel more satisfied eating 6 meals per day vs. 3 and it helps you stay COMPLIANT to your diet (thus reducing calories), choose to eat 6 meals per day.
If the opposite is true for you and you feel fuller and more satiated eating 3 larger meals per day which helps you stay compliant to your diet, then choose that route.
There is no right or wrong answer for the number of meals eaten per day when ONLY looking at the amount of fat burned.
And on the opposite side of the spectrum, there is no proof that skipping a single meal, or even a whole day’s worth of meals, will do anything to the metabolic rate in the short term.
Human metabolism just doesn’t operate that quickly.
And, in fact, may even increase metabolic rate over the short term.
But that’s a whole other article for another time!!
The PRACTICAL implication?
Choose the meal frequency that best fits your specific lifestyle and preference, while promoting the greatest diet adherence.
Ohkawara, K et. al. Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity (2013) 21, 336-343 Bellisle F et. al. Meal frequency and energy balance. Br J Nutr. (1997) 77 (Suppl 1):S57-70. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23404961