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Weight loss not faster with more meals a day

If you want to lose weight you need to spread your food intake more, so eat more small meals throughout the day, as this keeps your metabolism up. Diet gurus have been promoting this message for decades now to everyone trying to lose weight. A small study done at the University of Ottawa dares to contradict this. We, however, are not convinced.

The Canadians got sixteen healthy but overweight people to lose weight for a period of 8 weeks, by putting them on a diet that gave them 700 fewer calories than they burned. The diet was composed in accordance with nutritionists’ guidelines on healthy food.

Half of the test subjects ate 3 times a day: breakfast, lunch and supper. The other half ate 6 meals and snacked between meals. The high meal frequency-group consumed 202 kcal a day in the form of snacks. The total amount of energy that both groups consumed was of course the same.

The table below shows what happened to the subjects’ weight and body composition after 8 weeks of dieting.

high meal frequency

low meal frequency

Body wt (kg)



Fat mass (kg)



Lean body mass (kg)



The high meal frequency group lost a little more fat and retained a little more lean body mass, but the differences between the groups were not significant. The same was true for the differences between the production of the appetite hormones ghreline and PYY. The figure below shows what happened to the ghreline production in both groups. Triangles: high meal frequency group; squares: low meal frequency group; solid line: before the diet; dotted line: after the diet.

"We thus conclude under the conditions described in the present study that increasing meal frequency does not promote increased body weight loss", the researchers write at the end of their article. If they had had more subjects their results may have been different.

The experience of many natural bodybuilders is that eating more frequently over a day does prevent metabolism from dropping. But only when you eat during mainly protein in the extra ‘meals’, and then at least 30 g protein – 120 kcal – or more.

Br J Nutr. 2009 Nov 30:1-4. [Epub ahead of print].

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