Every now and again I see this concept shared by people and fitness professionals alike and it makes me a little crazy. It’s one of those ideas that has been around seemingly for ever despite there being no evidence for it being true.
The reality is that any effects on body weight that are caused by eating regularly will be due to Calories In vs Calories Out, not because of some magical effect on your metabolism.
So where did this idea come from in the first place?
First of all we need to look at something called the ‘thermic effect of food’ (TEF). Simply put this refers to the calories that are burned whilst you are processing the food you eat. The TEF of each nutrient you consume does vary but roughly speaking it adds up to around 10% of calories burned if you’re on a mixed diet.
The logic (and the thinking behind this ‘fact’) is that the more frequently you eat, the more you’ll see an affect from TEF so your metabolism will ramp up burning everything in sight! And I get that the idea makes a little bit of sense, but take a look at this example:
Two people consume 2,000 calories per day (same nutrients), but one has 5 meals of 400 calories and the other has 3 meals split evenly (666kcals per meal)
Person 1 = 400cals x 10% = 40kcals x 5 = 200kcals (TEF)
Person 2 = 666cals x 10% = 66.6kcals x 3 = 200kcals (TEF rounded up)
Exactly the same. No difference. Nada. Nothing. No metabolism change what so ever.
OK, so your metabolism doesn’t increase if you eat more often, there’s no evidence of this, but is there a situation where eating regularly is a positive thing in terms of weight/fat loss?
If you find it easier to control or reduce your caloric intake by eating more frequently then fantastic, it will of course help you to lose weight/fat.
However, if your intake requirement to lose weight is 1200 calories per day and you decide that you want to go with a little and often approach then bear in mind that 6 ‘meals’ per day will be just 200cals per meal. That’s little more than a snack. In fact, even a medium sized avocado is more than that!
The two most essential things to take away from this are:
1) As long as you’re putting yourself in a position where you are in a caloric deficit you will lose weight!
2) Eating more often does NOT increase your metabolism!