Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Does Eating Smaller, More Frequent Meals Help You Lose Weight?

Some weight loss gurus advocate eating smaller meals at more frequent intervals, claiming that "spreading out one’s daily calories over six meals stimulates the metabolism, keeping it going at a faster pace and thereby burning more calories." You've heard the notion before:
Eating small, frequent meals and snacks keeps your metabolism revved up. Continually eating small amounts of calories throughout the day will reassure your body that food is not in short supply, so it can keep humming along at a rapid rate. A faster metabolism burns more calories.
Sounds good, but is it true?

Not really. According to the New York Times:
Some studies have found modest health benefits to eating smaller meals, but often the research involved extremes, like comparing the effects of two or three large daily meals with those of a dozen or more snacks...

As long as total caloric and nutrient intake stays the same, then metabolism, at the end of the day, should stay the same as well. One study that carefully demonstrated this, published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, involved groups of overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets and followed for eight weeks. Each subject consumed the same number of calories per day, but one group took in three meals a day and the other six.

Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety. Other studies have had similar results.

For a more reliable metabolic boost, studies show, try exercise.
(Small meals might help with heartburn, though.)