True or false: Eating six small meals a day, instead of three large ones, will help you lose weight. Based on health advice in recent years, many of us would answer with a resounding “true” — but we’d be wrong. New research has widely debunked this belief. In fact, there’s a growing body of scientific support for sticking to three square meals.
One of the most pervasive myths is that frequent eating fuels metabolism — like using kindling to stoke a fire — and burns more calories. A 2013 University of Colorado study, however, reports that increasing meals from three to six (while maintaining the same calorie count) has no significant effect on metabolic rate or fat oxidation. In fact, the study shows that frequent nibbling actually increases hunger and the desire to eat. “We suspect that subjects never felt fully satisfied with the smaller meals,” says researcher Edward Melanson, PhD.
A 2013 report from Prague’s Institute for Clinical and Experimental Medicine found that when people with type 2 diabetes ate two large meals a day for 12 weeks, they dropped more weight than those who ate six meals, and they reduced their body mass index by 1.23 points.
Muscles can benefit from less-frequent meals as well. A University of Oslo study discovered that eating three meals a day, rather than six, produces greater muscle and strength gains. (And muscle is an excellent fat-burner.)
The cherry on top? Three meals a day are more likely to provide a well-rounded diet. The planning and prep involved in eating six mini-meals daily can be difficult, making it tempting to just grab a yogurt for every meal instead.