We’ve all heard the myths that promise multiple meals a day will keep your body burning energy. But are they true? Dr. Krista Varady Ph.D investigates.
If you believe some of the stories that exist about diet and weight loss, it’s very easy to view your metabolism as some horrible, evil monster plotting against you…. Perhaps secretly going into ‘starvation mode’ and making you put on weight when you’re trying your darndest to lose it. But the truth is, your body is just trying to work in the most efficient way possible with whatever you give it. And you don’t have to be super sneaky to get the metabolism monster working for you. Today, global go-to intermittent fasting researcher and Associate Professor of Nutrition, Dr. Krista Varady Ph.D. is investigating where some of the best ‘burn boosting’ myths come from and whether they’re true or not.
For decades, we’ve been told that eating three meals per day (plus the occasional snack) is the healthiest way of eating. But is this actually true? And if it isn’t, where did this myth come from?
The Truth About Three Meals A Day
The concept of eating three square meals per day was primarily shaped by the industrial revolution in the early 19th century. Working hours were highly regulated and most people worked from dawn to dusk. Workers ate before going to work and were also given an opportunity to eat mid-day so that they could sustain themselves. Once they returned home, most workers ate another meal with their families. And voila… the concept of three regimented meals per day was born!
But is ‘three meals per day’ really the best way of eating? That is, does it really boost your metabolism and keep your body burning energy all day long? Several studies have looked into this lately, and the answer is: probably not. Studies have examined how meal frequency affects metabolism. One study compared the effects of consuming six meals per day to two meals per day in women with obesity. Results from this study show that neither of these eating patterns had any effect on metabolism or energy intake. Similarly, another study showed that consuming three meals per day versus eight meals for three weeks had no effect on energy intake, body weight or waist circumference. Thus, meal frequency (eating anywhere from two to eight meals per day) probably doesn’t affect body weight, food intake or metabolism.
What About Multiple Small Meals?
It’s also been suggested that eating multiple small meals throughout the day may help curb cravings. But is this actually true? According to that study, the effect of eating either three large meals or eight mini meals per day on appetite was examined. After three weeks, the group that consumed fewer meals per day had greater appetite suppression when compared to the group that consumed multiple mini meals.
“After three weeks, the group that consumed fewer meals per day had greater appetite suppression when compared to the group that consumed multiple mini meals.”
These findings are supported by another study that showed eating six small meals per day was associated with lower feelings of fullness when compared to eating two large meals per day. So, contrary to popular belief, eating fewer meals per day may actually be the most effective way for keeping hunger at bay.
“Contrary to popular belief, eating fewer meals per day may actually be the most effective way of keeping hunger at bay.”
Intermittent Fasting and Metabolism
How does intermittent fasting affect metabolism and appetite? Most studies of intermittent fasting have required participants to eat their fast day calories as one large meal. Results from these studies show that fasting generally helps participants hold on to muscle mass, which can help keep metabolism high. Consuming the fast day meal in one go has also been shown to keep hunger levels low, and fullness levels high, which can improve adherence to fast day calorie goals.
So, what’s the take home message? The number of meals you eat per day probably doesn’t have much of an effect on body weight or metabolism. However, eating fewer larger meals per day (particularly on the fast day!) may help to curb cravings, which may make it easier to stick to your calorie goals.
What are some of the best metabolism myths you’ve heard and believed? Don’t be shy, we’ve all been there! Share them with the Super Squad by commenting below! If you’d like to learn more about your metabolism, the truth about starvation mode or discover the answers to some other Frequently Asked Questions, our FAQs page has got you covered.