Small Frequent Meals Aren’t The Magic Bullet You Hoped For

small frequent meals for weight loss

Have you heard you’ll lose more weight if you eat frequent, small meals? That’s because it’s s a long-standing myth that won’t go away. If you’ve faithfully followed this faulty advice, you may have paid for it in pounds. Pounds you didn’t lose because this fable has long been mistaken for fact. But don’t worry, Simple is here to clear up fact vs. fiction and get you back on track. And we’ve got the scientific explanation as to why eating five to six small frequent meals won’t help you drop those stubborn pounds.

3 Colossal Myths about Frequent Meals

Myth 1: Frequent Meals Boost Your Metabolism

The 5-6 meals a day theory claims it increases your metabolism, that’s because of the calories it takes to digest your food. It’s a fact that digestion burns calories, but that doesn’t mean you’ll burn more calories if you digest food more often. Remember, weight loss isn’t primarily about calories in and calories out. So, the basis of this theory is calorie counting, which is ineffective.

According to research, the number of meals you eat per day doesn’t affect your weight loss. Frequent meals may actually cause you to overeat. So, if you feel like you’ve been doing all the right things and are still struggling to lose weight, don’t get discouraged. When you eliminate just one meal each day, it can help you eat less overall. 

Myth 2: Regular Meals Keeps Your Blood Sugar Balanced 

When you eat, your blood sugar rises, and that’s what gave birth to the concept that your blood sugar will be more balanced if you periodically eat small meals. The assumption is fewer big meals will cause extreme highs and lows in your glucose levels, whereas frequent, small meals will help you maintain a consistent blood sugar balance. It’s partially true but doesn’t tell the whole story. 

A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found when you eat more often, it does keep your blood sugar consistent throughout the day – consistently high, that is! Your blood sugar might surge after a big meal, but only for an hour or less. On average, people who eat fewer meals have lower blood glucose levels throughout the day.   

To prevent an upturn in your blood glucose after your meal, eat fewer refined carbohydrates, and more protein at each sitting. 

Myth 3: Small Meals Reduce Your Hunger

is eating small frequent meals better

The myth that you’ll be less hungry if you eat more often is the most prevalent. A study published in The Obesity Society’s journal tells a different story. Researchers measured hunger and the “desire to eat” in two groups. One group received three meals per day, and the other six. While there was no difference in the number of calories each group utilized, participants who ate more frequently said they felt more hungry, which made them want to eat even more. 

These results match the findings of another study published by The Obesity Society, which keeps an online journal that publishes peer-reviewed research on obesity. This earlier study concluded eating less often will reduce your hunger. Researchers also found more protein in each meal will help reduce your appetite even more. So, to prevent hunger, eat fewer meals, and eat more protein at each meal. 

Health Benefits of Skipping Meals

Higher Metabolism for Greater Weight Loss

In direct opposition to the myth that eating more will boost your metabolism, the research proves you’ll see a significant rise in your resting metabolic rate when you eat fewer meals. In 2012, Marjet Munsters and Wim Saris studied a group of lean, healthy men. The participants ate fewer meals and found they were less hungry. They also saw a drop in their glucose levels and an increase in their resting metabolic rate. 

When you don’t eat for extended periods, the hormones that mobilize your body for action increase, specifically, your plasma norepinephrine will be more abundant, which is associated with a significant increase in your resting energy expenditure.    

In a  2016 study, researchers compared alternate-day fasting to daily caloric restriction. They found those in the fasting group burned an average of 376 more calories each day compared to those who ate more frequently. Again, calories aren’t the point. But, this research does show that frequent, small meals aren’t the magic bullet you thought they were.

The increase in metabolism that the intermittent fasting group experienced may be the result of metabolic switching. When you increase the time between your meals, your body begins to utilize your fat stores as fuel since it’s already depleted your glycogen reserves.

Increased Insulin Sensitivity

Remember, when you eat fewer meals, there can be a temporary spike in your blood sugar after you eat, especially if your meal is high in refined carbohydrates. However, eating less often reduces your overall blood glucose levels and increases insulin sensitivity. And that’s a good thing.

A study from Maryland’s National Institute on Aging proves intermittent fasting will reduce your blood glucose and increase insulin sensitivity, even if you don’t lose weight. When your insulin sensitivity is high, the cells of your body are even more effective at lowering blood sugar.  

Increased Autophagy Slows Aging

small frequent meals

Autophagy is how your body gets rid of old damaged cells. The efficient removal of these waste products slows the aging process and helps lower your risk of disease. So, an essential benefit of eating less often is an increase in your autophagy processes.

Researchers at the Scripps Institute found intermittent fasting promotes autophagy in your liver and brain and potentially protects your brain from aging and disease. So, fasting is an inexpensive and accessible way for you to increase the autophagy process. 

Intermittent Fasting Limits Your Meal Frequency

To reap the benefits of eating less often, skip just one meal per day, it’s an easy way for you to incorporate intermittent fasting, and it doesn’t matter which meal you choose.  

Breakfast

When you skip breakfast, it’s a natural way to introduce intermittent fasting to your lifestyle because you’re extending your usual overnight fasting window. If you sleep in later, exercise in the morning, or begin your workday when you wake, you may find it’s easier to skip breakfast.  

Contrary to popular myths, research demonstrates there’s no particular benefit in eating breakfast. The evidence concludes you’ll benefit from fewer meals per day. 

Lunch 

On a busy day, you’ve likely skipped lunch, which is a perfect example of how much easier it is to fast when you keep yourself occupied.  

If you choose to forgo lunch, you can try to eat a late breakfast or an early dinner instead. Then, as your body gets accustomed to intermittent fasting, try to extend your mid-day fasting window even longer. 

Dinner

Dinner is also a reasonable meal to skip because doing so lengthens your overnight fast. If you eat a late lunch, avoid late-night social obligations that include food, or go to bed earlier, it can make effortless to omit your dinner.

When you phase out one meal per day or eliminate one meal every other day, it can be a less stressful and more straightforward way to incorporate intermittent fasting into your life. That way, you’ll reap the plethora of benefits fasting has to offer.

Weight loss myths are widespread, and the legend about small frequent meals is no exception, but the science shows us the opposite is exact. If you want to lose weight, feel better, have more energy, and reduce aging, don’t be afraid to skip a meal. It may be essential to your health and wellness.

Author's bio

Sara-Mai Conway

Sara-Mai Conway

Sara-Mai is a writer who specializes in physical and mental health, nutrition, and fitness. She has 20 years of professional experience in the health and wellness industry and is a certified yoga instructor.