A new study presented this week at the American Diabetes Association in Chicago challenges the popular notion that eating six mini-meals a day is better to lose weight than sitting down to fewer large meals.
Eat less often, lose more?
After 12 weeks, participants who just ate a large breakfast and lunch lost an average of 1.23 points from their BMI (a measure of body fat), versus subjects who ate the same number of total calories spread over 6 small meals throughout the day. And there were other pluses, too: researchers also reported that subjects who dined just twice a day had improved insulin sensitivity, and less liver fat at the end of the study.
So should you start eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper? Not so fast. First, the study was small – just 54 participants – and has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal. Secondly, one of the keys to the results of this study is the very thing Americans struggle with: controlling calories. In a clinical setting, it’s easy for researchers to mete out calories in controlled doses (in this instance, two meals at 750 calories, or 6 smaller meals of 250 calories). In the real world, few of us have a similar “off switch” that will let us magically forget about food after lunch. Which is the very reason most health experts recommend eating meals (and yes, a snack or two) throughout the day to help keep hunger at bay and prevent you from overeating as the day progresses. Third, the study only looked at people with Type 2 diabetes so the results may or may not be applicable to the population at large.
So what should you do?
But there are two key points the study highlights. First, it reinforces that breakfast is fundamental to a healthy eating pattern to maximize weight loss efforts – instead of skipping breakfast, and then eating lunch, dinner and a host of snacks into the evening. It also questions the popular notion that “mini meals” are a key to boosting metabolic rate and enhancing weight loss (a 2010 study in the British Journal of Nutrition reached a similar conclusion). For some people, the idea that we need to be constantly eating to gain a metabolic edge may actually be sabatoging their weight loss efforts. Three meals plus 1-2 snacks a day, comprised of nutrient rich whole foods, is a sound strategy most people can stick with over the long haul for better health and weight. To rise and shine deliciously, check out some of my favorite plant based breakfasts here.