Meal Frequency and Metabolism Myth

Some of us are often told in newspaper articles, by elders, by “fitness freak” friends(worst advisers ever) and even by some dieticians that one should eat their meals in small amounts spaced out throughout the day. They may be multiple reasons for putting him/her on a higher meal frequency if a person is on medication or suffering from an eating disorder, insulin issues etc. But in general, the most common reason cited is that it increases our metabolic rate so that we can lose weight quickly. How much of this is true, if at all?

In last two decades, traditional low meal frequency patterns (2-3 times/day) got slowly replaced by higher meal frequencies (5-7 times/day). These days, Indians eat more snacks and drinking more beverages than their previous generations. To add salt to the wound, many health practitioners and fitness gurus endorse 5-6 meals per day for higher metabolism. But, it is hard to believe how the notion of metabolic boost has prevailed for so long. Following are some research links for studies conducted in 90′s on the same topic:

  1. Study in 1993 which concludes in no significant effect of meal frequency on weight loss, lean mass or fat mass loss
  2. Another study in 1993 which concludes no significant effect of meal frequency on average daily metabolic rate
  3. Meta-analysis conducted in 1997 of several earlier epidemiological studies which acknowledges weak evidence for studies observing an inverse relationship between people’s habitual eating frequency and body weight. Also, it was concluded that there were no significant differences in net daily energy expenditure between higher meal frequency (gorging) and lower meal frequency (nibbling).

One might argue that old studies are often flawed with inaccurate measuring techniques. Well, following are some researches in 21st century which further consolidate findings of previous studies:

  1. Review published in 2011 on controlled-feeding studies suggesting minimal impact of increased eating frequency on appetite control and food intake
  2. Study in 2001 suggesting that meal frequency did not affect net energy balance
  3. Meta-analysis published in 2009 suggests no relation between eating frequency and weight/health while losing or maintaining weight

To summarize, there is no reason for you to eat more frequently that you want to increase your metabolic rate. Given the same amount of calories for the day, it does not matter. Though your dentist might go crazy on you if you nibble 10 times during the day, you have the freedom to choose how many times do you want to eat. What matters is what are you eating and how much do you eat in total. Don’t fall for shady fitness experts and marketing gimmicks to fool you into buying stuff you don’t need. Stay smart.


In Lucem Scientiam



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