Does it matter how many meals a day you eat if your goal is to lose weight?
This is something I want to clear up in today’s blog.
There is a common myth that you should eat ‘little and often’ to boost your metabolism and help burn fat.
This is so well known that I even used to believe it, hell I even put a Facebook status about it when I first followed a 6 meal-a-day bodybuilder meal plan.
Well in today’s blog I’m going to put that to bed, pretty much immediately.
For health and weight loss, the amount of meals you eat has no effect when total protein and calories are equal.
If your goal is to lose body fat, then you need to eat less calories (creating a calorie deficit) and eat ample protein to retain lean body mass (muscle).
There you go.
Pretty bold statement for those of you that believed the above myth.
Maybe you’ve heard that skipping meals leads to metabolic slow down, or ‘starvation mode’.
Or that, by having breakfast you ‘stoke the fire’ and turn your body into a fat-burning machine.
Well, sorry to burst your bubble guys, but the above is false also.
So where do these myths come from?
Like a lot of information in the fitness industry, the above claims come from anecdotal/observational evidence.
Essentially stuff like: “I lost weight eating more meals, thereby more meals = weight loss.
What you need to remember and keep in mind is that correlation does not mean causation.
So just because this guy lost weight eating more meals, doesn’t mean it purely because of the higher meal frequency, there are other variables that need to be taken into account.
Like total calories, protein, and adherence.
When does meal frequency matter?
If you’re purely concerned with health and weight loss, then it literally does not matter.
You could have 1 meal a day or 6 meals a day, if the total calorie intake per day and total protein content per day were matched, you would have physiologically the same response.
The factor that matters most is adherence.
How easily can you stick to it?
Do you enjoy it?
This is where meal frequency and timing can play a huge difference.
Let’s say you were trying to lose body fat, and you’re quite a small person who is rather sedentary – 8 hours at a desk per day.
You’re going to be on quite ‘low’ calories in comparison to someone a lot bigger and more active, and you need to reduce your intake from where it’s currently at to create a caloric deficit for weight loss.
A good idea would be to have fewer meals that were bigger, thereby feeling more satisfied and full from each meal, rather than grazing on 6 small meals.
If you eat all of your calories by lunch time, and you’re only having 2/3 meals a day, then it’s safe to say you’re going to struggle through the afternoon/evening.
A much better (and more sociable approach) would be to eat low in the early stages of the day, and ‘bunch’ a lot of your food towards the afternoon/evening.
This is going to give you a larger, more satisfying evening meal with friends/family/loved ones and may even help you sleep better (a fair bit of research suggests carbohydrate consumption before bed improves sleep).
Now this is only one suggestion but is a way that you can plan your meal frequency and timing around your daily situation, in order to improve how easily you stick to it.
Intermittent Fasting – a magic bullet for weight loss?
Now intermittent fasting is claimed by many as the way they lost weight and kept it off.
Again, this comes down to creating a calorie deficit.
By skipping out a meal, or two, and reducing your eating window, you will be eating fewer, bigger meals. Leaving you more satisfied and more likely to stick to a calorie deficit.
However, there has also been some research to suggest that by fasting in the morning, eating little to no carbs during the day, and bunching them in your evening meal can help with your health markers and body composition.
So, if you’re someone who wakes up and doesn’t feel like they need breakfast, try skipping it and holding out until lunch.
Just don’t use skipping breakfast as an excuse to eat the biscuit tin at morning coffee time.
But I thought breakfast was the most important meal of the day?
Well then you need to read this blog.
As always, questions welcome in the comments.
Thanks for reading.