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Note: I asked this question on the Skeptics exchange and was redirected here. Also note, I was informed that it may have been a duplicate on the Skeptics forum, but I was subsequently linked to a post regarding overall health benefits (or lack thereof) of feeding frequency - not strictly metabolism

So, I've lived a sedentary lifestyle these past few years (ahem, whole life), and developed a bit of a spare tire around my midsection. There are several people at work who live very active, healthy lifestyles, and I have decided that I want to be more like them, and less like my current status.

I've received a lot of good-natured, helpful advice from them, and the overwhelming majority of it, I've been able to research on Google Scholar or my university's online library to corroborate as being factual or scientifically plausible. To the best of my knowledge and research, their advice has been generally very good and scientifically sound.

There is one thing they keep suggesting I do to help boost my metabolism: eat numerous (snack every 2-3 hours) small meals a day rather than a traditional 3-meal breakfast, lunch and dinner. For a variety of reasons, this does not personally suit me, and quite frankly, the reasons I've been given as to why this happens don't seem to line up with what little research I have seen on the topic.

With all things being equal other than the frequency of feeding, does the frequency of feeding (numerous small meals as opposed to three regular meals) provide a metabolic boost over another?

Please note that I am specifically asking about the effect each method has on metabolic rates, although any related information as to overall benefits or disadvantages to either dietary method are welcome.

migrated from fitness.stackexchange.com Jul 28 '16 at 17:57

This question came from our site for physical fitness professionals, athletes, trainers, and those providing health-related needs.

  • Welcome. Your question as written is off topic here. Please see the Help section - in particular the requirement for "nutrition as it relates to exercise". – rrirower Jul 27 '16 at 20:11
  • As this is off topic let me give you some off-topic advice. Stop worrying about trying to adjust your metabolism and: Eat Less, Move More. You will actually reach your goals eating less calories than you need. – Gunge Jul 28 '16 at 7:28
  • I know this has been bounced around, but I think it might at least be viable on the Health site. I'm not sure you'll get a satisfactory answer, but I think it is an interesting question. – JohnP Jul 28 '16 at 17:57
  • @JJosaur - that sentiment was the focal point of a fantastic TEDx talk I saw. – iAdjunct Aug 29 '16 at 18:04
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Quote from When to eat and how often? (2005) in American Journal for Clinical Nutrition:

The effect of the timing of food intake on metabolism has been the subject of active investigation for >40 y. Indeed, whether it is “better” to eat many small meals a day is one of the questions most frequently posed by the lay public. Comparing the potential benefits of nibbling and of gorging has been the focus of much animal and human research, but no clear consensus has emerged (1-7). Simply put, the question of whether there is a health benefit from the consumption of multiple small meals will ultimately depend on how much energy is consumed, as opposed to how often or how regularly one eats.

Quotes from Effects of Increased Meal Frequency on Fat Oxidation and Perceived Hunger (2013):

Consuming smaller, more frequent meals is often advocated as a means of controlling body weight, but studies demonstrating a mechanistic effect of this practice on factors associated with body weight regulation are lacking.

And:

(...) results suggest that there is no effect of meal frequency on EE [energy expenditure] or fat oxidation under isoenergetic states, which is in agreement with results from previous results (17,19). However, hunger AUC and the “desire to eat” AUC were significantly greater during 6M compared to 3M.

So:

We conclude that increasing meal frequency from three to six per day has no significant effect on 24-h fat oxidation, but may increase hunger and the desire to eat.

Quote from Metabolic impacts of altering meal frequency and timing - Does when we eat matter? (2016):

At present, there is still a perception within the general community, and amongst some nutritionists, that eating multiple small meals spaced throughout the day is beneficial for weight control and metabolic health. However, intervention trials do not generally support the epidemiological evidence, and data is emerging to suggest that increasing the fasting period between meals may beneficially impact body weight and metabolic health.

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So at first: Why is eating frequently (with 2-3 hour pauses) better than eating 3 times a day?

Eating 3 times a day will clearly give you the "Jojo-Effect" which causes getting much fat back in a short period of time, after eating a lot of "unhealthy" or much foot. So the method with eating frequently will last longer because you won't get cravings (or not that much) and there is no Jojo-Effect. The metabolism doesn't stop when you're eating something (many people say this), it's always "on". But don't worry about metabolism that much, that makes things more complicated.

How to loose weight: eat less calories than you need (~you need 2000 calories, with 30-60min work out up to 3000 a day). But just don't take it too seriously, and have fun loosing weight.

I recommend just to eat the right things, and don't always (or never) be hungry. Drink a lot of water (this should be the only thing you should drink!), eat a lot of vegetables, less fruits and sweets and go FOR A WALK. I know Elliot Hulse (a Strongman) says this and it's just true! It really isn't bad if you eat sweet once or twice a week. What most important is, that you slowly reduce the amount of sweets in order to avoid cravings. (When you are able to easily stop eating sweets than do this, it depends on you.)

Later than (after a month or so, after you got a little bit into sports by just walking), I would do bodyweight training (Cunches, push-ups,...), just basic things, or when you are not able to do that, just begin doing some weight-training with leight weighs.

So: Bodyweight or weight-training, it depents on you. Because YOU have to decide what's the best for your body - if you are too heavy, than do weight-training, of you are fit enough, than do bodyweight training.

Find a partner and work out with him (or go FOR A WALK). You won't believ how much motivation a partner can give you!

Summary: Just eat the right food, drink a lot of water and have some fun doing sports, and don't make things too complicated, it's really easy. (:

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    I do appreciate the answer, but it doesn't really address the chief issue. I am well aware of calories in vs. calories out, and all that, but I am specifically trying to address the science (or lack thereof) of meal frequency as it relates to metabolism. Of all the help I've been offered, this is the one thing that has never made sense to me, and I'm really trying to get to the bottom of whether or not there is any validity to it. – FrancisHoneywellCollins3 Jul 28 '16 at 21:00
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According to a 2016 review (http://journals.lww.com/co-endocrinology/Abstract/publishahead/Meal_frequency_and_timing___impact_on_metabolic.99502.aspx), meal frequency has the following effect:

  1. If you're getting in less calories than you burn, then it's more beneficial to eat less frequently (two meals as opposed to six meals).

  2. If you're getting in as many calories as you're burning, then eating more frequently won't have any effect on your weight.

All in all, meal frequency can only have a small effect on your metabolism (provided you can keep your calorie intake in check).

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