You don’t have to go far to find a health expert who swears that eating 5 to 6 times a day is the best way to boost your metabolism, particularly if you aren’t a keen exerciser. It’s advice that’s based on the fact that the body uses energy to break down food, which means that the very act of eating burns calories…. right?
Those who swear by eating little and often fail to take into account two key things. But it’s these two things that on close inspection suggest that eating just 3 meals a day, with no snacking, is infinitely more effective for losing weight/fat and keeping it off.
Point number one
Snacking raises insulin, which puts the body into fat storing mode
The pancreas releases the hormone insulin every time you eat and if you cast your mind back to your high school biology lessons, you may recall that insulin’s main role is to get your body’s cells to absorb sugar (in the form of glucose) from the bloodstream.
This glucose is then used to provide the energy you need to go about your business BUT if you’ve eaten more than is needed for energy, excess glucose is taken to the liver and muscles for storage as… yes you guessed it… fat (and glycogen – a stored form of glucose).
Every time you eat, your insulin levels rise and this process is repeated, which means that by divvying up your 3 meals into 5 or 6, you’re constantly topping up your insulin levels and keeping your body storing instead of burning fat.
Of course, some foods, like sugary carbs (think cookies and chocolate) cause a bigger surge in insulin than others, like cheese, but the overall effect is that snacking (no matter how healthy the snack) raises insulin.
If you are hellbent on snacking, bear in mind that simple, processed carbohydrates (white bread, crisps etc) cause the biggest insulin spike, followed by complex carbohydrates (think wholegrains like quinoa or rye) and then pure protein (like plain chicken or egg whites). Finally, pure fat (like a spoon of olive oil) does not trigger insulin release at all. Simply put, if you’re going to snack without triggering fat storage, you’re best off opting for pure fat or plain protein… even though it’s going to taste pretty gross.
Point number two
Calories burned from eating relates to the total calories eaten
While the act of eating does indeed boost the metabolism, that rise in metabolism (known as thermogenesis) is due to energy being used to digest, absorb, transport and store the food eaten. This means that the amount of calories you burn from eating relates to how much food you eat each day, not how many times you eat. Simply put, if you eat 5 apples a day, the same amount of energy will be used digesting, absorbing, transporting and storing the apples in your body whether you choose to eat all 5 in one sitting or if you opt to eat one apple every 3 hours.
And for any of you who’ve been shaking your head profusely while reading this post because you’ve followed a ‘eat little and often’ plan in the past and had success, there’s a reason for that.
If you go back and add up the calories you ate in all those small meals, you’re likely to find you were actually eating fewer calories daily while following that plan compared with when you ate 3 large meals a day… and that’s why you lost weight.
And if that isn’t proof enough for you, here come the studies…
This review, published in the British Journal of Nutrition, investigated the impact of meal frequency on calorie burn and found that “nibbling meal patterns failed to reveal significant benefits in respect of energy expenditure”. Furthermore, this small Dutch study, found no difference in diet-induced thermogenesis among men who ate 2 big meals daily compared with those who ate 7 smaller meals per day.
And it doesn’t stop there. There are a whole heap of similar studies that draw the same conclusion, which when considered alongside point number one (about insulin and fat storage) means one thing: If you’re trying to lose weight, sticking to just 3 meals a day is hands down the most effective way to go about it…plus who has time to prep 5 meals each day?!
If you’re looking for more science backed strategies for getting into great shape, don’t forget to grab your free ‘Eat right for your body type’ guide while it’s still available! Discover what you should be eating to get your genetic body type into the best shape possible.