Traditionally in the UK  we tend to eat 3 square meals a day (Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner) yet when asked ‘how to lose weight’ one of the most popular answers people give is to eat little and often. The reason which often follows this statement is that eating regularly increases your metabolism and therefore helps you burn more calories.

There is some truth behind this in that you burn a certain amount of calories in order to digest and absorbed the food you eat. This is known as the thermic affect of food and on average this accounts for around 10% of total calorie intake. However whether you eat the same amount of food/calories spread out over 3 meals or 6 meals the thermic effect of food will be the same and therefore increasing meal frequency will have little affect on weight loss.

There have been a few studies which have investigated the effect of meal frequency on weight loss. One article reviewed 10 weight loss studies in which meal frequency was used as an intervention and meal frequency wasn’t found to have a significant impact on weight loss [1].  This is supported by other studies which found that gorging or nibbling had no impact on the total number of calories the participants expended [2]. 

The benefits of eating more regular meals…

Whilst eating more regularly may not help weight loss directly by causing our bodies to burn more calories, there are some advantages to eating small regular meals for both losing weight and for increasing your health in general. These include:

Helps prevent snacking:  Eating more regular meals means you don’t go long periods of time without eating. Also knowing there isn’t long to wait till your next meal will give you a psychological advantage and will help you resist that packet of hobnobs.

Increases food variety: Eating more regular meals can help ensure you are consuming all the nutrients your body needs. By eating more meals you are more likely to consume a larger variety of different foods.

Less tiredness/bloating after meals: Eating a large quantity of food in one meal can cause you to become tried and bloated. This is why for a lot of people Christmas Dinner is soon followed by a nap on the sofa.

A Final Note…

Although eating small regular meals may have some benefits it’s not essential for losing weight. The basic principle for weight loss is to consume fewer calories than you expend throughout the day. If you do this consistently you will lose weight. Other factors such as meal frequency and timing have very little impact on weight loss. So don’t worry that you’re not eating regularly enough or at the right times, eating a set amount of meals at the same times everyday just isn’t possible for a lot of people. Therefore just base your eating around your schedule and as long as you are in a calorie deficit you will lose weight.