There are a lot of fitness and weight loss myths out there that sabotage your results. Such as the idea that carbs make you fat, more sweat = better results, and the idea that you need to eat 6 times a day to maximize weight loss.
This last one – eating every 3 hours (or 6 times a day) is – is waste of precious time and usually blocks fat-loss. Here’s why. These are the 4 myths that are used to sell this idea:
Supporting myth 1: Eating frequently accelerates your metabolism
It takes energy to digest food. However, the amount you burn digesting your food is based on how much you eat per day not how many times you eat per day.
If you are eating 1,500 calories per day with 100 grams of protein, then you will burn the exact same amount of energy if you ate that as one huge meal vs. 6 glorified snacks1. You can’t “trick” your body into burning extra calories by eating more often.
The only way to increase the amount of energy you burn digesting your food is to increase the amount of protein in your diet. But, again, spreading out your protein to 6 mini-meals will not enhance this.
Researchers have actually put this into nearly plain English:
“Weight loss is not facilitated by high meal frequency. Snacking in obese subjects is associated with higher energy [intake].”
Supporting myth 2: Eating frequently keeps you from getting too hungry
This is bro-science. Research consistently shows exactly the opposite is true. The more often you eat the more you want to eat.
If you take two groups of people and eating exactly the same food, but give half 6 mini-meals and the other half 3 real meals, the group eating 6 will be hungrier and less satisfied with what they’ve eaten. For the record, promoting hunger does not help you lose weight.
Yes, you may have seen headlines making a claim to the contrary, but, as you can see here, headlines are about getting clicks not about good reporting. More often than not the headline will make a claim that is the opposite or simply unrelated to what the researchers found.
Researchers, have put this into relatively plain English:
- “the fullness-related responses were consistently greater with higher protein intake but lower with increased eating frequency” (Source for study #1)
- “The LFr [LFr = low frequency, as in only 3 meals vs. 6] diet increased satiety and reduced hunger ratings compared with the HFr [HFr = high frequency] diet during the day.” (Source for study #2)
Supporting myth 3: Skipping meals makes your muscles waste away.
This myth says that if you don’t feed your muscles every 3 hours they will begin to waste away. You’ll go all catabolic!
While this is a great way to sell snack, protein bars and shakes, it’s not even remotely true. It takes approximately 60 hours (2.5 days) without food for your body to begin to turn to your muscles for energy. (source)
Not losing (or even adding a bit) muscle mass with age or with weight loss is about 2 things:
- Getting enough protein per day
- Doing strength training consistently
Supporting myth 4: More than 3 (or 4) hours between meals puts your body into “Starvation Mode” and will make it easier to get fat.
Our bodies do have a “starvation mode” where the metabolism slows down, and you begin dreaming and fantasizing about food, but this takes at least 72 hours without food to kick in.
Eating less often primarily makes it easier to eat less, and therefore easier to lose weight.
What do I do now?
If what you are doing now is working very well for you, then keep doing that. However, if you’re frustrated with trying to plan and prep 6 small meals a day it might be time to try something else.