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Meal Frequency Doesn’t Matter

December 16, 2009

At least, meal frequency doesn’t matter when it comes to your metabolism.  A new study shows that increasing the number of feedings per day, while keeping calorie intake equal, doesn’t increase the number of calories burn. From the study:

We conclude that increasing (meal frequency) does not promote greater body weight loss under the conditions described in the present study.

In fact, another recent study compared 1 meal per day to 3 meals per day under eucaloric (i.e. same number of calories) conditions. The result was that body composition stayed basically the same with a slight improvement in the one meal per day group.

While there are many complex biochemical/hormone drive variations occurring, the only thing that matters in this regard is the thermic effect of food (TEF). The notion of 6 meals per day was put forth with the idea that more metabolic responses to food (TEF) would increase the number of calories expended each day. However, what happens when the number of meals are reduced while keeping calories the same? The calories at each feeding increase, as does the TEF at each meal. So if you’re eating 3000 calories/day at 1 meal or at 6 meals, the total TEF at the end of the day will be about the same.

How can you apply this? Don’t worry so much about establishing “set” feeding schedule. Rather, do a little n=1 experimenting and see what works best for you. For example, I like larger meals and am quite busy with morning clients, so I typically skip breakfast and have a big dinner. If it’s lunchtime and you’re not hungry, wait until you’re hungry to eat (not starving, hungry). Also if you’re going to be unusually busy mid-day, don’t worry about “starving” or your metabolism tanking. Knowing this means you can schedule meals around your schedule…the way it should be.

So the take home message is this: calories matter more than the number of meals in which those calories are spread. A person’s temperament and preference should be considered when designing a diet for fat loss.

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