We’ve all probably heard the “eat many small meals throughout the day” diet tip that is supposedly good for losing body fat. The main support for this type of meal frequency is that it keeps your metabolism elevated throughout the day, which then translates to greater overall calorie burn. The problem with this is it causes other issues that don’t quite equate to weight loss.
Leptin is a hormone produced by fat cells, which can suppress appetite and switch on signals within the body to burn stored fat. Between meals, assuming you allow enough time, triglycerides are cleared from your blood, and leptin is able to function normally. According to Certified Clinical Nutritionist Byron Richards, “Besides that fact that these fat blobs [triglycerides] confuse leptin, they are also headed in the direction of your hips, thighs, and stomach. So breaking them down and clearing them out is vital, and this only happens when you allow 5-6 hours between meals.”
In addition to the triglycerides being cleared, glucose (broken down from glycogen) is released by the liver to maintain blood sugar levels during times of fasting. Frequent eating also disrupts this process by causing repetitive elevations in the hormone insulin, which facilitates the uptake of glucose into the cells. Over time, frequent insulin elevations, especially when sugary foods/drinks are consumed, can make one more and more resistant to insulin. This resistance can become so severe that it leads to type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset diabetes.
A 2009 study in mice found meal timing to be a strong determinant in the activation of genes in the liver which regulate metabolism. One researcher stated “...the phase and amplitude of rhythmic gene function in the liver is determined by feeding and fasting periods--the more defined they are, the more robust the oscillations become” (Vollmers, Gill, Di Tacchio, Pulivarthy, Le, & Panda, 2009). This essentially states the need for clear eating and fasting periods to ensure optimal liver function and metabolism.
Richards continues to say, “The fictitious idea that snacking is needed to stoke your metabolism or maintain your blood sugar is in no small part behind dietary advice that has helped cause an epidemic of obesity.” If you are one who eats 5-6 meals per day, consider eating 3-4 meals and allowing more time to pass between them. You may just see better results.
Ryne Gioviano, M.S.Ed., NSCA-CPT
Owner of Welligee Personal Training & Lifestyle
Vollmers, C., Gill, S., Di Tacchio, L., Pulivarthy, S., Le, H., & Panda, S. (2009). Time of feeding and the intrinsic circadian clock drive rhythms in hepatic gene expression. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.