5 Meals a Day Does Not Help Weight Loss

By Mike Howard

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Say it ain’t so! The accepted conventional wisdom of eating several smaller meals throughout the day to shed pounds is being challenged at almost every turn. A recent article has gone so far as calling extra meals a “faddish dieting trend” (gasps in horror).The study cited in the article took 179 obese men and women who were on the same weight loss diets with the same caloric intake with different eating patterns. One group ate 3 times a day while the other ate 3 meals + 3 snacks. No difference was found between the groups in terms of weight, girth measurement, body fatness or blood sugar levels.

The results are consistent with a compilation of similar studies that showed little to no difference between snackers and non-snackers.

“We found it’s not when you eat that matters, but what and how much you eat”. Says Michelle Palmer, a dietician at the University of Newcastle.

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The Theory Behind Snacking

The rationale for eating more often is to boost metabolism and/or help contribute to lower caloric intake. In theory, eating stimulates the thermic effect of food, which should elevate metabolism. Further, aren’t we helping curb binges brought on by long stretches without food?

The research does not appear to support such theories and if it is does, it isn’t enough to translate into weight loss.

Snacking Can Help or Hinder

Like any other aspect of eating, snacking is highly individual. Making sure you eat a healthy balanced diet is the first line of defense against excess fat. It comes down to hunger cues. If you aren’t hungry between meals then don’t eat, if you are, grab a healthy snack.

Successful snacking needs to be strategic, healthy and planned for. For people always on the go, sit-down meals are not always in the cards. For these people, snacking is crucial to healthy eating. Also, I often encounter those who eat voraciously at dinner because they essentially don’t eat from about noon until after 6. For these people, a mid-afternoon snack is warranted.

Also, look at what you’re doing now. If it isn’t working, try something different. If you are eating 2-3 times per day – try eating 3-4. If you are prone to excess snacking, try cutting back.

Eat when you are hungry, eat healthily and don’t eat too much. The rest will take care of itself.

91 Comments

  1. Donny

    Hmm, I need to diet but am afraid.

    Reply
  2. Count Iblis

    Hmmm, I eat 8 times per day:

    1) 7 am Breakfast

    2) 8.30 am Second breakfast

    3) 10.30 Early lunch

    4) 12 pm Main lunch

    5) 3 pm Last lunch

    6) 5 pm Dinner

    7) 7 pm Second dinner

    8) 9 pm Light meal before sleeping

    I eat about 3800 Kcal per day spread about over these 8 meals. I weight 55 Kg, my body length is 1.70 m, so my BMI is 19, which makes me borderline underweight. I exercise twice a day (half an hour of fast running and half an hour of fast biking, total energy expended whike exercising is of the order of 1200 Kcal/day)

    Reply
  3. marisol

    I’m a Veteran and use the VA’s MOVE program which has been researched thoroughly and promotes several small meals a day. I’ve lost 20lbs (along with moderate exercise). My brother is a doctor who does research for major institutions around the USA for diet and fitness, there is plenty of research out there, a person needs to sift and read through it all, not just one blip on the screen. I do agree that this type of plan may not work for all, just don’t say there isn’t research to back it.

    Reply
  4. Stephanie

    This currently works for me and has for over two years. But I do think that it depends on the person. I wouldn’t say that I lose more weight BECAUSE of my meals than someone else doing a different “plan”. It works because it works for ME. It keeps me from getting too hungry and making bad choices. But the same strategy doesn’t work for my husband. He doesn’t have the time to eat snacks in between meals and prefers to pack in all of his calories at the main meal, which keeps him full from wanting to snack. The most important part of dieting is remembering that what works for one person may or may not work for you.

    Reply
  5. Steve

    There is no doubt about the benefits of having 5 or 6 small meals a day. However, I must admit that it isn’t something that everyone should do straight away.

    When I was involved in the fitness industry industry many years ago, people would come and see me to find out how they can lose weight effectively. Of course when I would ask them about their current nutritional habits, many people would say that they only had 1 or 2 meals a day (this was one reason why they were overweight in the first place!).

    In these cases the person’s metabolism is obviously quite slow. Therefore, it simply doesn’t make sense for them to go from 1-2 meals a day to 5-6 meals a day; the increase in meal frequency is too much and even though they will only have small meals, it is still probably too many calories and they will likely put on weight by following that approach.

    However, it is something they can work towards over a period of time. For example, I would suggest they start by having 3 small meals a day and do this for a period of 4-6 weeks while their metabolism gradually sped up. Then, I would have them monitor their appetite and when they would start to feel hungry we would have them to increase their meal frequency to 4 small meals a day. They would then do this for perhaps another 4-6 weeks. Finally, as they started feeling hungry again we would have them increase their meal frequency to 5 or 6 small meals a day.

    During this whole process the people would be losing weight, which would help to keep them motivated and even after they get to the point of having 5 or 6 small meals a day some people may still feel hungry so we would then start increasing their meal portion sizes! Even though they started eating more food/ calories overall, because their metabolism was now quite fast, they did not put on any weight!

    Overall, whilst 5-6 small meals a day is a great goal to aim for, it may not be suitable for everyone to do straight away. If necessary, perhaps try following the procedure that I’ve used in the past and see how you go!

    Reply
  6. becky

    i find it really funny how everyone saying that the 5-6 meals a day didnt work for them say that it wasn’t useful because they’d eat their dinner portion as though they werent snacking all day beforehand. HELLO? are you people stupid? of course its not going to work if you’re not doing it right. i think it does. if i’ve eaten 5 small meals and feel ravenous when its time for meal 6, know what thats telling me? that what i’m doing is working. you learn to control your portions and hunger by eating healthy fats and lean proteins.

    and for the commenter saying that europeans/asians dont eat snacks, you really have no idea what you’re talking about. the difference is that what is considered a snack elsewhere in the world is considered a itty bitty morsel by american standards. a single serving sized can of tuna in water is a snack, an apple is a snack, 1/3 cup of nuts is a snack- a tuna sandwich, a fruit salad, a can of nuts, a bowl of soup, a tiny plate of food isn’t a snack, it is a meal.

    Reply
  7. Mitch

    Eating six meals a day worked for me. I lost 100 lbs in 1 year. The key is not to overeat. When you eat frequently you know the next meal is close by so its easier to maintain control over your eating.

    Reply
  8. anonymouse

    also, interval training, doing 10 minutes of it is equivelant to an hour of running. If you do LSD, long slow distance running, your actually not burning as much fat as u could be, wrecking your knees and getting very little cardiovascular benefit. In order to make running worth wile at all, u must include sprints and interval training. And yes thing’s work differently for every single indivudual, a few of my kung fu brothers lived in china, and they ate the bulk of their meal after training all day at about 12pm-2 am. In theory, sumo’s train the same way and eat at the same time, they should have gained weight, they lost weight instead. If you cannot open up to ideas that you alone find you will forever wander being a follower of others.

    Reply
  9. KGR

    I started eating 5 meals a day on April 16th. To date I’ve lost 51 pounds. After many other diets did not work I tried eating more often. My primary care doctor, who also specializes in weight management suggested eating this way. He said after age forty most women have a hard time losing weight. He said exercise is the least effect way to lose weight. I had to agree. After joining a gym and working out 4-5 times per week I lost nothing. I explained that I was not eating any more than normal. In fact I had cut back my calories, but did not shed even a pound. I found the easiest way to stay on the diet is to prepare my lunches and dinners ahead of time. I weigh everything and calculate how many calories are in the meals I prepared. Most of them are 250-350 per meal. You can place them in the freezer and pull out what you need for the day. I have started to enjoy my meals more than anything I get out. I do like to have a treat now and then. I will have sushi as a treat. But I always keep it within a certain limit.

    Reply
  10. Gwen

    I think the point of the plan is to reduce snacking. People generally eat healthier in meals than snacks also.

    Reply
  11. JJ

    Oh ok I am at my LAST 10-15 LBS goal. With that last 10-15 Lbs are the hardest lbs to lose and I needed a boost. I thought if I change my diet and tried the 5-6 sm meals it would help the lose…well no really. Even when I was not hungery, I still ate a sm meal when time. With that I gain 3-4 LBS. So BS! Im 5″9 and before I was 157, trying to go for 150. now am 163! Slowly it got there, so ppl watch it before its to late.

    Reply