One of the most popular and pervasive myths about speeding up your metabolism is that eating small meals very frequently will speed up your metabolism compared to eating bigger meals less frequently.
This idea has been around for 20 or 30 years, and many nutritionists today still promote this as an effective way of boosting the metabolism.
While eating very frequently can be helpful in certain cases–for those dealing with adrenal fatigue for example–in general, promoting this as a one-size-fits-all strategy that is “healthier and better for fat loss for everyone” is very misguided.
In fact, the idea that eating six small meals speeds up your metabolism has actually been tested by researchers.
One study published in 2009 in The British Journal of Nutrition, involved groups of overweight men and women who were randomly assigned to very strict low-calorie diets and followed for eight weeks. Each subject consumed the same number of calories per day, but one group took in three meals a day and the other six.
Guess what happened?
Metabolic rate, appetite control, hormonal measurements, and overall weight loss were identical between the two groups.
Numerous other studies have concluded the same thing.
Simply put: There is no solid evidence that six small meals a day instead of three will speed metabolism.
Now, let me take this one step further…
There is now some evidence suggesting that, in many cases, eating small meals very frequently may actually BE HARMFUL to health and body composition in the long run.
The recent study by Koopman, et al. found that High Meal Frequency was strongly linked to Higher Weight Gain and Accumulation of Liver Fat. The researchers concluded that “…snacking, a common feature in the Western diet, independently contributes to hepatic steatosis and obesity”
Other research (like Kahleova, et al. Diabetologia (2014).) done on diabetics has found that contrary to popular advice (that eating frequently will satiate you and speed up your metabolism), eating frequent small meals really does is:
* Leave people hungry even right after meals
* Make their thoughts revolve around food 24/7
* DECREASE (rather than increase) metabolic rate
So perhaps following the typical “eat 5-6 small meals per day” advice isn’t such a great idea.
It is also worth noting, however, that if you have EXTREMELY low frequency of eating and you routinely skip meals and eat only dinner, it is likely you can cause significant metabolic slowdown from this. (Whether this is do to low eating frequency, or simply low calorie intake is debatable).
The take-home point is that it’s critical NOT to INTELLECTUALLY INTERFERE with your body’s natural hunger signals. Eat in accordance with biological need–i.e. with your body actually telling you that it needs more fuel. Do NOT start pouring in food in the absence of hunger. And do NOT start forcibly depriving your body of food when your body is clearly in need of fuel. BOTH of these are counterproductive in the long run.
Now, if you’re so out of touch with your body’s hunger signals (from years of intellectual interference) that you no longer know how to eat when you’re hungry, well, I recommend adopting a basic approach of 3 meals a day (breakfast, lunch, and dinner) as a good basic template, and I suggest eating in between those meals only if you do a workout.