May 24, 2013
This is one of the most popular myths provided by fitness and health professionals, magazines, and news articles. Many studies, including the ones referenced here observe a correlation between higher meal frequency and reduced obesity. We make similar recommendations to our clients for this reason; however, the key point to remember is that correlation does not equal causation.
Truth: Many studies show that there is no significant difference in body weight and composition between high/low meal frequencies, when caloric intake is the same.
This study (2010) is one among many concluding that increasing meal frequency has no effect on promoting weight loss. Subjects were randomly divided into either a low or high meal frequency plan for 8 weeks. Both groups experienced weight loss due to calorie restriction, but no advantages were observed in the high MF group.
This is an analysis of the bulk of studies conducted to test for the impact of meal frequency on metabolism. The conclusion was that most experiments were neutral, and the ones that did observe a metabolic advantage were refuted by other studies. Frequent small meals seemingly have no impact on weight loss.
Should everyone jump off the 3-6 meals per day train?
Some would have you believe so, because of animal studies which conclude that intermittent fasting (IF) and caloric restriction (CR) extend life/health span, and improve the cardiovascular and cerebrovascular systems. Further, these studies are finally crossing over to human trials, which are also confirming (2011) some of the benefits found in animals.
One of the first controlled trials specifically designed to observe the effects of IF on humans has drawn some interesting conclusions. This was an 8 week experiment in which subjects were randomly assigned to either 3 meals per day or one meal per day, while consuming the amount of calories needed for maintenance. The findings were that subjects were losing significantly more fat mass on one meal per day. Those subjects were also found to have higher blood pressure, higher total cholesterol, a significant decrease in cortisol, but they also were observed to be experiencing more hunger. We all know that a diet leaving you unsatisfied is the hardest type to stay on. The authors suggest that IF as a short-term fat loss plan could be extremely effective, but long-term could lead to hardships. It is also important to note that this study was done on healthy weight individuals, not obese people.
- After reviewing many experiments we conclude the following:
- The need to eat frequent small meals for weight loss is a myth that has been debunked by science.
- IF coupled with CR has been seen to increase life span by as much as 30% in rodents, but this has not been verified in human trials.
- IF is an effective short-term weight loss plan for immediate results, say before a bodybuilding competition.
- IF is hard to maintain in the long-run due to the nature of the diet.
- CR still seemingly is the key to successful weight loss.