Does Eating Small, Frequent Meals Promote Weight Loss?

By Nikki Nies

Nikki is a Dietetic Intern and Masters student at Benedictine University. This post is the ninth installment of the new Student Series here on the CAND blog, which features Chicago-area dietetic interns every Thursday. Nikki is passionate about many areas of nutrition and dietetics including nutrition education – keep reading for her breakdown of the recent research on how often to eat to promote weight loss. For Nikki’s full bio, please see below.

Does Eating Small, Frequent Meals Promote Weight Loss?

Like many, when it’s time for me to shed a few pounds, I want all the best and latest tips at hand to make the job easier and to guarantee weight loss. So, I started researching to see if the number of times a person eats in a day makes a difference in our ability to lose weight.

We all know the standard recommendation: Eat three meals a day and breakfast is the most important. However, newer research has suggested that eating between six to as many as fourteen times a day is more effective to promote weight loss because it encourages a constant feeling of fullness, which suppresses appetite. Eating that frequently limits chances of starvation, can increase metabolism and, for some, can increase and speed up weight loss. On the other hand, researchers on the opposite side argue that increasing the number of times we eat in a day could actually cause us to gain weight because the more times we eat in a day, more chances we have to  overeat.

After evaluating five research studies, I concluded that four of the five did indeed favor more frequent eating to promote weight loss. However, all five studies made one thing clear: There is no universal definition of what a “snack” or “meal” is. Without portion guides, it’s easy to see how someone could overeat. In my evaluation, one study defined a snack as greater than 50 calories, another study classified it as a food eaten within a 15-minute period, while a third study only stated that people should eat three meals and three snacks per day without providing sizes of those meals and snacks. With such room for interpretation and no clear description of portion size, it is hard to compare the studies equally.

These studies all provided mixed results as to how often and how many meals should be eaten in a day to promote weight loss. Many studies used the basis of three meals a day as the control, while high meal frequency ranged from five to fourteen meals. Clearly, more research is needed in this area, and we shouldn’t forget that quality of food consumed should also be considered. There is a fair amount of evidence that says small, frequent meals can produce a greater chance of weight loss. Yet, the lack of consistent evidence in regards to how often one should eat reinforces the idea that weight loss is a personal, individual journey and there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan. So go ahead and experiment – what works for you?

 

 

3cbb7c9Nikki Nies is part of the dual Master’s degree in Nutrition Wellness and dietetic internship program at Benedictine University.  She received her bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Food Science with a Concentration in Dietetics from Montclair State University, Montclair, NJ in May 2013. She is the current student liaison between the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for Benedictine as well as a member of several dietetic practice groups include Chinese Americans in Dietetics and Nutrition; Sports, Cardiovascular and Wellness Nutrition; National Eating Disorder Association; and the Thirty and Under in Nutrition and Dietetics. Nikki’s passion for dietetics blossomed while providing hands-on nutrition education to others through the SNAP-ED program, making regular posts on her blog wedishnutrition.wordpress.com, and finding a balance between nutrition and overall health. 

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Nicci Brown

Nicci

Nicci Brown, MS, RD works as a nutrition communications specialist for FoodMinds, LLC in Chicago. She serves as the Assistant Blog Editor for CAND and has been a blog contributor since 2012. Nicci is a graduate of Rush University Medical Center’s combined Masters of Nutrition and Dietetic Internship and is also a proud graduate of The Ohio State University. Connect with Nicci on Twitter and Instagram (@NicciBrownRD) or, if you have any questions or comments or would like to be a student contributor to the CAND blog, feel free to contact her at brown.nicci@gmail.com.
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