Will eating more frequently really raise your metabolism?

You’re worried about your metabolism, but can you actually speed it up by eating throughout the day?

Different research methods have shown that no, eating frequency doesn’t alter weight loss, so you can stop eating all day if you're doing it because you think it's going to "stoke your metabolic flame."

There is no strong evidence to prove that you will be more likely to lose weight, or that you can alter your metabolic rate, based on the number of times you eat per day[1][2].

Some surveys have shown an increase in BMI correlated with decreased eating frequency[1][3][4], while others have shown increased eating frequency linked to a higher BMI[5]. Huh? Eating fewer times per day is linked with being fatter, but so is eating more times per day. The latter may be due to an overall increase in calories (it’s easier to take in more calories than you need when you are eating more meals). 

Additionally, eating fewer meals may also be correlated with a lower BMI due to survey participants' exercise habits, both because of the extra calories burned and because exercise can cause a decrease in appetite.[6] 

But what happens during fasting? Does your metabolism slow down? 

The answer again is no—whether you skip one meal, or several days worth.[7][8]

The idea that fasting decreases your metabolic rate (or that eating more frequent meals can increase it) may come the misinterpretation of what actually happens when you eat. 

Your body uses energy for digestion and absorption of nutrients, so your energy expenditure will rise temporarily after eating (known as the Thermic Effect of Food, or TEF).[1][9] But the total amount of energy you burn from eating is proportional to your total caloric consumption, not how you break up your meals.[1]

In other words, the effect eating will have on your metabolism will be the same whether you eat one or eight meals a day.

So then how many meals a day should you eat? 

Any diet or eating pattern you can stick to will work if it serves one function: your energy expenditure exceeds your energy intake. In English, please? The most important factor in your diet for weight loss will be how many calories you take in overall versus how many calories you are burning.

In the various studies and surveys, higher frequency meals were shown to be more satiating for some[10][11], while lower frequency meals tended to be more satiating for others[12]. Again, in English? Some people felt fuller after meals and less hungry during the course of the day when they ate more often, and some when they ate less often.  

That being said, break it up in a way that you can consistently eat the amount you set out to. If you need to eat 2,400 calories and you want to do it all in a single meal, great. If that makes you feel sick, or you hate waiting all day to eat, spread it out more.

Or maybe you're dieting on 1,200 calories per day and would rather eat 3 400-calorie meals over the course of the day than 6 meals at 200 calories (closer to snacks, if you ask me).

Your schedule might dictate your eating patterns, too. Eating six times a day isn't a realistic goal if you work a job that keeps you tied up all day. Play around with the number of meals and meal timing that suits you in a sustainable way. 

Keep experimenting until you find something that doesn’t make you say, “Dear god, when will this be over?” Remember that the goal is to make changes TO your diet, not to try to stay ON a diet. 

To sum it all up: if you’re struggling to lose weight, your metabolism isn't to blame. Reassess your eating habits. And if you need help with those, you need only ask: info@ritualcoaching.com

1. Bellisle F, McDevitt R, Prentice AM Meal frequency and energy balance . Br J Nutr. (1997)
2. Cameron JD, Cyr MJ, Doucet E Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet . Br J Nutr. (2010)
3. Bertéus Forslund H, et al Meal patterns and obesity in Swedish women-a simple instrument describing usual meal types, frequency and temporal distribution . Eur J Clin Nutr. (2002)
4. Tin SP, et al Breakfast skipping and change in body mass index in young children. Int J Obes. (2011)
5. Drummond SE, et al Evidence that eating frequency is inversely related to body weight status in male, but not female, non-obese adults reporting valid dietary intakes . Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (1998)
6. Duval K, et al Physical activity is a confounding factor of the relation between eating frequency and body composition . Am J Clin Nutr. (2008)
7. Webber J, Macdonald IA The cardiovascular, metabolic and hormonal changes accompanying acute starvation in men and women . Br J Nutr. (1994)
8. Mansell PI, Fellows IW, Macdonald IA Enhanced thermogenic response to epinephrine after 48-h starvation in humans . Am J Physiol. (1990)
9. Volp AC Pinherio, et al Energy expenditure: Components and evaluation methods. Nutr Hosp. (2011)
10. Smeets AJ, Westerterp-Plantenga MS Acute effects on metabolism and appetite profile of one meal difference in the lower range of meal frequency . Br J Nutr. (2008)
11. Stote KS, et al A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal-weight, middle-aged adults. Am J Clin Nutr. (2007)
12. Munsters MJ, Saris WH Effects of meal frequency on metabolic profiles and substrate partitioning in lean healthy males . PLoS One. (2012)