Anyone who has tried to lose weight has heard this before: instead of eating three big meals at specific times, eat 5-6 smaller meals, or ‘graze’ throughout the day.
The reasoning behind this is twofold:
- So that your metabolism will continue burn high all day. The argument being since your body is getting calories throughout the day, it will not go into starvation mode and store excess calories as fat.
- So, that you don’t feel hungry and end up over-eating.
I can’t tell you how many diet experts swear by this, I have literally read this a thousand times and accepted it as gospel.
Sounds good…in theory…
However, a new study recently published in the journal, Obesity, came up with some very different results.
The study took –place at Purdue University in Indiana, and 37 overweight or obese men took part in the study.
Stage One: Establishing the Control
Subjects were divided randomly into two groups:
Group A received a high-protein diet plan (about 25% of total calories from protein)
Group B received a mid-level protein diet (about 14 percent protein)
All of the participants were expected to adhere to their new plans for 12 full weeks.
Both diet plans contained 750 fewer calories than the men needed to maintain their weights. Therefore, feelings of hunger should’ve started up quickly and frequently in all of the testers.
No instructions were given as to the frequency of meals…
Stage Two: Testing Meal Frequency
Starting at week seven, the men (who stayed on the same diet plans) were asked to change the frequency of eating.
Some participants were asked to eat three meals per day, with meals spaced five hours apart.
Others were asked to eat a small meal every two hours, for a total of six meals per day. The participants stuck to one method for three consecutive days, then switched to the other plan for three days.
The men reported their results after the 12 week period had ended.
For the men on the high-level protein diet (25% – which a lot of weight loss experts would consider mid level), eating 3 meals a day kept them more satiated than eating 6 smaller meals a day. They were actually less hungry during meal times, and they thought about food less…
More importantly, they had less of an urge to snack at night – a big deal.
However for men on the lower protein diet, the meal frequency did not seem to make any difference at all…
Another interesting result of the study is that overall the men on the higher protein diet felt less hungry between meal times than the lower protein group.
More Questions than Answers
Like most of our articles it brings up more questions than answers.
Just writing out loud here…
Did the lower protein diet simply not supply enough protein to cause satiation? Making meal frequency irrelevant? This is speculative, but makes some sense. Did the subjects on the higher protein diet who ate three meals a day actually lose more weight than the folks on the high frequency diet? I think this may be important!!!
And obviously it would be interesting to see if the results were the same for women and for different types of diets…
And of course it would be nice to see a more long term approach.
The Battle Resumes:
This study is far from conclusive, but it does add new ripples to the 3 meals versus 6 meals debate. I would love to hear what you think about this as I know there are a lot of strong opinions out there! Please comment below.
Source: Heather J. Leidy, Minghua Tang, Cheryl L.H. Armstrong, Carmen B. Martin and Wayne W. Campbell, The Effects of Consuming Frequent, Higher Protein Meals on Appetite and Satiety During Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Men, Obesity , (16 September 2010)