Eating More Meals Does NOT Speed Up Your Metabolism II

In Part I of learning about how eating more meals does not speed up your metabolism, we covered many research studies that showed there was no benefit for so called accelerated thermogenesis with more meals. While eating 6x a day can work to lose weight, it’s not necessary and in some cases may actually cause MORE harm to your long term weight loss efforts.

Here’s what some other extremely smart fitness writers (not that I am calling myself extremely smart, just saying these people know their stuff hands down) also touched on this subject. Once again could this whole myth finally stop gaining momentum…..or are we cursed to ongoing modern media health gossip not getting people real lasting results?

First series of quotes comes from Martin over at leangains.com from his article posted here (which is also an excerpt from his new upcoming book)

You’ve probably heard that eating smalls meals throughout the day ‘stokes the metabolic fire’ or is the ideal way to eat in order to control cravings and blood sugar; as consequence, this should also be the ideal way to eat for fat burning purposes. This belief is partly based on a gross and blatantly incorrect interpretation of research concerning TEF (Thermic Effect of Food).

The problem here is that the research has been presented in such a way that it has lead people to believe that the net effect of TEF of several small meals would be greater than that of a few, large meals.

TEF is directly proportional to the calories contained in the meal you just ate (ref). Assuming a diet of 2400 calories, with the same macronutrient composition, eating six small meals of 400 calories or three big meals of 800 calories, TEF will be exactly the same at the end of the day.

So, while eating several small meals a day will per definition ‘keep the metabolic furnace burning’, three big meals will ‘keep the metabolic furnace blasting’.

Good stuff. I can certainly attest that when I have larger meals my metabolism goes into overdrive (I get hotter and could probably break into a sweat!), especially when combined with an IF eating lifestyle. More from Martin:

Simply put, if you eat six small meals throughout the day, you will store and burn less fat between the meals compared to three meals a day, while you will store and burn more fat with three meals a day. Note that I say ‘store’, because fat storage and fat burning is an ongoing process ‘ with six small meals you will store less AND burn less, and with three meals a day you will store more AND burn more.

Whether you store or lose body fat at the end of the day is a consequence of intake minus expenditure; not meal frequency.

I’m not sure when we starting thinking about minute to minute metabolic responses, but Martin nails it down. It’s about what happens all day long that is the sum of all real results. Too many magazines and other so called experts are telling us to worry minute by minute….is that any way to really live? Or are people just now profiting from our now ongoing consistent obsession to eating? (we’d all probably get the best weight loss if we lived on an island with no diet books, no TV, no media news, no magazines….and just ate naturally).

Lyle McDonald on his blog did a really great post about meal frequency and energy balance as well. Here’s some of the highlights:

Perhaps one of the longest standing dogmas in the weight loss and bodybuilding world is the absolute necessity of eating frequently for various reasons. Specific to weight loss, how many times have you heard something along the lines of “Eating 6 times per day stokes the metabolic fire.” or “You must eat 6 times per day to lose fat effectively.” or “Skipping even one meal per day will slow your metabolic rate and you’ll hoard fat.” Probably a lot

Well, guess what. The idea is primarily based on awful observational studies and direct research (where meal frequency is varied within the context of an identical number of calories under controlled conditions) says that it’s all basically nonsense. The basic premise came, essentially out of a misunderstanding of the thermic effect of food (TEF) also called dietary induced thermogenesis (DIT) which are the calories burned in processing of the food you eat.

They concluded that earlier studies finding an effect of meal frequency on weight gain (or loss) had more to do with changes in appetite or food intake, not from a direct impact on metabolic rate. For example, early observational studies found that people who skipped breakfast were heavier and this still resonates today with the idea that skipping breakfast makes you fatter.

You can read more on his blog, but it still boils down to the TEF of 3000 calories is the same at the end of the day whether in 3 meals…or 6 meals. Here’s some more quotes:

that there is no data in humans that skipping a single meal or even a day’s worth of meals does anything to metabolic rate. Human metabolism simply doesn’t operate that quickly and various research into both fasting and intermittent fasting show, if anything, a slight (~5% or so) increase in metabolic rate during the initial period of fasting. The idea that skipping breakfast or a single meal slows metabolic rate or induces a starvation response is simply nonsensical.

You will not go into ‘starvation mode’ because you went more than 3 hours without a meal. Nor will your muscles fall off as an average sized food meal takes 5-6 hours to fully digest

Amen! Another big myth that “diet” and supplement companies will prey on….the dreaded “starvation”….whoooooaaaa (that was supposed to be my evil scary laugh). The metabolism as said above does not shut down with a missed meal….and when you look at IF and enough calories there is actually an INCREASE in metabolism. Wow….what else do we have….

Other studies have shown that splitting one’s daily calories into multiple smaller meals helps to control hunger: people tend to eat less when they split their meals and eat more frequently. But, again, this isn’t an issue of meal frequency per se, it’s because food intake is decreased. When folks eat less, they lose weight and IF a higher meal frequency facilitates that, it will cause weight loss. But, at the risk of being repetitive, it’s not because of effects on metabolic rate or any such thing; it’s because folks ate less and eating less causes weight loss.

All about the calories and hunger control….although eating smaller more frequent meals actually makes me hungrier! (and I am a miserable SOB when I am hungry all the time….so my mood is not going to be optimal on that eating plan).

First and foremost, a 2 vs. 6 meal per day comparison isn’t realistic. As discussed in The Protein Book, a typical whole food meal will only maintain an anabolic state for 5-6 hours, with only 2 meals per day, that’s simply too long between meals and three vs. six meals would have been far more realistic (I would note that the IF’ing folks are doing just fine not eating for 18 hours per day).

Personally I like 3-4 meals a day to balance my exercise and recovery. I go by how I feel and stopped worrying about muscle loss long ago….seems it still sticks around, even with IF added into the equation….who knew, right?

Lastly from Martin’s LeanGains blog again is an interesting email between himself and the author of the most popular online fitness ebook “Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle” by Tom Venuto (article seen here)….Tom who pushes 5-6 meals in his ebook even states:

You will still see me recommend 5-6 small meals per day,and rather strongly. But not dogmatically. What you wont hear me say is that 6 meals increases metabolism or weight loss over 3 meals at an equal caloric intake.

You will also not hear me say that your metabolism slows down if you miss a single meal. (starvation response) I already reviewed that data on my public blog last year:
http://www.burnthefatblog.com/archives/2007/11/is_starvation_mode_a_myth_no_i.php

All in all can we finally put this myth to rest? Are there people still out there that still believe you NEED to eat 6x a day to lose weight?? Eating and calories (and quality of foods) is important in weight loss or muscle gaining efforts, but don’t fall for diets promoting the need to eat all the time…..just so you have to buy their snacks/bars/supplements. It’s a sales pitch!

So summing up…here’s the take home points

  • Once again, eating more meals does NOT provide a metabolic advantage at the end of the day (if the calories and macronutrients are the same)
  • If you need to get a lot of calories in for a high activity level or trying to put on weight, then more meals may be more realistic to get it all in. (after all, isn’t this where the myth started…with the bodybuilding industry?) But again, not neccessary.
  • If a diet tries to sell you on the myth that you need to eat more often to lose fat….walk away before they also try and sell you on their special frozen meals, bars, shakes or other supplements. They want your money! If a so called expert says it, walk away…because they get their knowledge from mainstream hype and gossip (as I know plenty of personal trainers educated only by fitness magazines and diet books on what and how to eat).
  • Trying to eat more often may actually be causing more people to gain weight…as they are eating much more than they really believe they are. (as we all know about underestimating what we really eat) This is also more an issue with women, who need far less calories than men on average…and can easily overeat on snacks and meals if not careful. Total calories matter.
  • What does eating 6x a day and measuring portions really do for our social life and attachments to food? Does this help or hurt people who may already be obsessive about food? (you know what I would guess…..Hurt!)
  • Eating 6x a day is not realistic or a long term lifestyle any of us probably want to follow, so how do we keep it up? We don’t (why you see a new spokesperson for all those weight loss meal programs every 3-6 months…because their other ones in the past gained all the weight right back!). If you can’t sustain it, it’s not going to help you in the long run. Go for lifestyle changes, not quick fixes.
  • Be Free from diets….Tupperware containers….Measuring portion sizes….Carrying around snack bars (which are usually filled with sugar and other crap)….free to enjoy good healthy whole foods and sit down to enjoy meals like you used to. Don’t live to eat…..eat to live.

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