Around the globe, obesity rates are on the rise. As such, it is not a surprise to see why dozens of new exercise fads, diet trends, and other tips have started taking over the world of weight loss. It can be a confusing world to explore, but losing weight and creating a healthy lifestyle should be something we all strive towards.
There have been a lot of contradicting studies regarding the frequency of mealtimes. Some experts would say it is ideal to follow the classic three meals in a day, while others suggest that you must increase the frequency of your meals to five or six times a day if you aim to lose weight.
But what is the correct meal frequency, and how much do you need to eat to lose weight effectively?
Higher Meal Frequencies
Based on very few studies, there is an inverse relationship between weight loss and meal frequency. This simple idea implies that the more meals you consume in a day, the less you weigh.
Some studies show that individuals with an overall healthy body that were obese in the past have been able to lose weight by consuming more than the regular three meals per day.
Having frequent meals does have its benefits, though. The most significant advantage is having more frequent meals can give you a wider variety of choices of food to eat, as long as they are nutritious.
By improving your diet, you’ll be making healthier choices, such as fresh fruit, whole grains, and even vegetables. This can promote a healthier lifestyle and prevent you from eating processed foods and high-sugar treats.
We know that cravings are our enemies when it comes to dieting. When your mind can’t get off the bag of greasy and salty chips, you’re not going to take a second look at the plate of celery it’s next to. You need to add as many healthy foods to your diet to combat these cravings, which will help you succeed in your weight loss journey, long-term.
At the end of the day, frequent meals and snacking could mean more calories, and more calories add up when you are living a sedentary lifestyle. If you do not lead an active lifestyle, then this may not be an ideal approach to losing weight.
As mentioned, there aren’t many studies that focused on meal frequency as much as the quality of food. However, there are some studies that suggest the amount of meals you have in a day might now make that much of a difference after all.
In a study that was conducted on 51 subjects for six months, they observed the effect that the subjects’ meal frequency contributed to weight loss. Two groups were created: the gorging group, who consumed three meals a day; and the grazing group, who consumed 100 every two to three hours. The grazers ate around six times a day. All of the individuals in the experiment followed the caloric limit based on their weight-loss goal.
At the end of the research, all of the participants showed evident weight loss. However, there was no significant difference in weight loss value between the two groups.
The grazing group did mention that their appetites were suppressed. But this didn’t make much of an impact on the amount of weight they lost during the trial. So it didn’t matter how many times they ate, but how many calories they took in.
Another research study was conducted where 16 subjects were grouped into two groups: one that ate three solid meals a day; and the other that ate six times a day. They all had the same caloric limit of 700. The results of the study showed that both groups had the same amount of weight loss during the entire experimentation process.
Therefore, based on these studies, the frequency of meals has little to no effect on weight loss. Though there should be more long-term studies on the matter to determine the ideal meal frequency, it seems entirely irrelevant at this point.
How about the metabolic rate? Do more frequent meals improve your metabolism?
Higher Meal Frequencies and Your Metabolic Rate
Metabolism is a complicated chemical process that allows the body to convert the calories from food and drinks into useable energy. The calories you take in are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body requires to function normally. Even when you are at rest, your metabolism is working. Functions like breathing, healing, blood circulation, and cell repair all happen thanks to your metabolism.
In layman’s terms, metabolism shows how well your body can generate and use energy or how it can burn calories efficiently. Some individuals are blessed to have a faster metabolism rate that quickly consumes the calories they have taken in, as opposed to those who have slower metabolisms.
The basal metabolic rate and/or the resting metabolic rate is what determines our body’s overall energy expenditure. Ideally, our body needs at least 60-70 percent of the calories the body requires to function normally. So can frequent meals impact your metabolism?
Energy is measured in calories, whereas the number of calories burned each day is referred to as the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). A small fraction of the TDEE is influenced by the kind of food you consume, whereas the digestion of food requires the usage of a portion of calories.
There is a theory called the thermic effect of food (TEF) that states that eating activates the metabolism. Still, the fact of the matter is the number of calories eaten will always outweigh the amount you burn during digestion. This debunks the entire concept of frequent meals and losing weight.
Hypothetically, you burn approximately 11 calories per hour through chewing, and another 10 percent of the TDEE in the entire digestive process. Therefore, if you eat a meal with 200 calories and it takes you 10 minutes, you would use up approximately 1.8 calories by chewing and roughly 20 calories through the digestive process. You would have burned 21.8 calories in total, and that’s not much compared to the food you intake.
Another study was done to determine the effects of meal frequency on the metabolic profile of lean, healthy men. Twelve men went through the same acclimatization process for three days before the experimentation process. They received the same types of meals during the entire process of the trial, each meal consisting of 15 percent protein, 30 percent fat, and 55 percent carbohydrates.
Blood samples were acquired at fixed times within the day to measure satiety hormones and metabolic markers during the duration of the experiment. When comparing the meal frequencies over 36 hours, there was no significant difference in total energy expenditure, with a slight increase in resting energy expenditure, thus indicating that there is no direct relationship between eating frequency and your metabolic rate.
There is no way you can just spark your metabolism through food and the frequency of meals you eat. Metabolism is working with your body throughout the day. Eating is only a small piece of the puzzle. and the metabolic rate can be different between individual people. This can be impacted by gender, age, and even genes.
Therefore, eating small frequent meals for weight loss is a complete myth. If you want to lose weight, the key is to burn the calories you take in or control the amount you consume. By understanding the purpose of having a caloric limit, you will easily be able to achieve your weight loss goal.
Higher Meal Frequency and Muscle Gain
In addition to weight loss, there has been discussion on meal frequency and muscle gain. There hasn’t been too much research completed. Still, the limited studies have indicated that higher meal frequency is beneficial for preserving muscle tissues. The gain entirely is more dependent on the calories you take in. This is considering the individual’s BMI is within the normal range; there is a monumental difference when an obese individual tries the same trick with hopes of lessening their weight.
Higher Meal Frequency and Controlling Blood Sugar
Eating big meals is assumed to lead to unbalanced blood sugar levels. In contrast, smaller frequent meals stabilize the levels better throughout the day. This is the very thought of many new-age health buffs; however, there is no scientific research to back this claim.
More studies have shown that people who eat fewer yet larger meals may have lower blood sugar levels compared to those who frequently eat throughout the day. If your goal is to control your blood sugar, eat breakfast. Eating the largest portion of food in the morning can lower the average blood sugar levels as well.
Higher Meal Frequency and Controlling Cravings
In terms of satiety, less frequent meals have reduced hunger and cravings compared to having small frequent meals. Other studies suggest that increasing meal frequency will not affect weight loss and would even promote cravings compared to eating less. However, there will be a difference in choices between the appetites of those with a lean body type and those who are overweight.
There are dozens of things that influence a person’s appetite. Meal frequency is one, but everything varies between people. Taking a look at the quantity and kind of food you consume is a better approach than regulating the number of meals you have within the day.
Fasting is defined as the voluntary reduction of food or drinks over a specific timeframe; this is often done for religious reasons, testing, or weight loss plans. It’s completely the opposite of frequent meal consumption. There have been discussions on how fasting is another way to improve your metabolic rate. But does it work?
Fasting and Your Metabolic Rate
In short periods of fasting, there seems to be an increase in metabolic rate, but it does not seem to be consistent after 72 hours, although the range of adrenaline seems to increase during fasting. For healthy individuals, alternate fasting does not change the metabolic rate. Researchers conducted a study where the test subjects consumed food alternately and ate twice as much on specified days. There was no significant difference that can correlate fasting to improving your metabolic rate.
Fasting and Weight Loss
Another question is: Is fasting good for losing weight? Over the years, we have continuously heard that missing meals is bad for us and that it would disrupt our level of energy and force us to binge the next time we eat. But how much of this is true?
Again, there hasn’t been much research on the topic. But it does depend on the individual and your body’s physiology. A study on the correlation of obesity to breakfast completed in Japan found that skipping breakfast and snacking three hours or less before bedtime was correlated with obesity. There were a few other studies that claim no significance between the time you ate and obesity. What mattered was the number of calories consumed.
In retrospect, consistency is the key to controlling cravings and overeating. If you work within a schedule and eat on time, your appetite would not be as affected compared to having unplanned mealtimes every day. Being able to systematize your food intake and follow a routine is vital to managing your weight loss.
Food Quality and Quantity or Meal Frequency?
The type of food you eat and the amount of food you consume plays a significant role in the whole process of losing weight.
In a study on the relationship between starch and sugar of a person with obesity, the researchers were able to determine that body weight and fat mass decreased significantly on individuals placed on the starch diet. However, there was no change in body weight or fat mass with those assigned to a high-sucrose diet.
Choosing the right type of carbohydrates can make a difference. When planning meals, you need to take into account the quality of the food you are consuming. If you have chosen to eat three meals a day, your body must be getting the nutrition it needs on top of working within the allotted caloric limit.
Three Meals a Day
Now that we have established that the ideal meal frequency would be the three-times a day routine let us dive into the details.
Research shows that consuming a massive breakfast, smaller lunches, and dinners with less snacking improved appetite, regulated blood sugar, and overall decreased caloric intake.
Remember that the quality of food is as important as the quantity. Though there are hundreds of fun breakfast cereal at the grocery store that promises to give you that added boost in the morning, it’s always best to check the packaging. Most of it is just sugar, and the “boost” you are experiencing is technically a sugar rush that will lead you to a hard crash.
The ideal amount of full meals for a day is three. Anything more only increases the number of calories you take in. If you are not working out or if you do not have an active lifestyle, this just means you are piling on the calories without burning them.
Maintaining your caloric limit is ideal when it comes to losing weight, despite the number of meals you eat. But with a higher frequency, you can be sure that more calories will be left unaccounted.
Choose to consume more calories as early as possible, as opposed to later at night. Stick to a high-protein and nutrient-packed meal to suppress hunger and cravings. As well as a specific routine and schedule, this is the most efficient way to keep track of the calories you consume and manage your weight loss.
You must also take into consideration the quality of calories you choose to consume. Getting yourself on track and managing your weight can be quite tricky, especially with tons of conflicting information.
The bottom line is to do your research and find a method that works best for you and your lifestyle. It doesn’t have to be the same as everyone else. It is more important to find a routine and lifestyle that you can stick to consistently. Consistency is the key to achieving your long-term weight loss goals.