For years I have been skipping meals, eating irregular portion sizes at irregular hours (not because I want to loose weight, but because I am simply too busy or not hungry). If this article in Women's Health Magazine is anything to go by, I should by now be a wreck, with a constant mind fog and a barely there metabolism. I am glad to say that this has not happened yet.
With all the health and dietary advice going around, it can be hard to figure out what is right for you. Have you ever been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day or that eating many small meals during the day is better for losing weight? I have. Lets take a look at the most recent research to set the record straight on how the frequency and intervals of our meals affect our body.
Eating breakfast in the morning will help you loose weight or keep your weight stable.
Not so. A study from 2014 found that eating breakfast does not change the way you metabolise food during the day and has no effect on weight loss, fat loss or overall health, although it can help stave off food cravings due to fluctuating blood sugar levels later in the day. The only difference seen in lean adults eating breakfast, as opposed to those who did not, was more physical activity. However these adults also consumed more calories overall (1).
Eating many small meals over the course of the day is the best way to increase metabolism, reduce hunger and loose weight.
Think again. It was recently found that eating many smaller meals during the day had no impact on metabolism. In fact, people eating less than tree meals per day, were found to generally feel less hungry and fuller for longer. This same group of people were also found to have a greater appetite control, which in the long run could lead to better weight control (3). The word is still out on whether eating less than three meals per day helps appetite control, as a review of previous studies found conflicting data. However, all studies to date are unanimous in their findings that eating many small meals during the day does not affect metabolism (4).
Skipping meals is bad for you.
Not so fast. An animal study from 2014 found that mice who fasted for 15 hour a day with free access to high fat foods for 9 hour a day, were protected from several health complications such as obesity, fatty liver, increased levels of insulin in the blood and inflammation. It even reversed metabolic diseases in mice with pre-existing obesity and type II diabetes. The restricted access to food also improved the way the mice utilised nutrients and increased their energy expenditure (5).
Staying with the topic of fasting, a recent study looking at how Ramadan fasting affects food consumption found that even with a whole day of fasting, individuals would still consume the same amount of calories after the fasting period, as they would on a normal day. Interestingly though, by consuming all of their daily calories in just a few hours, researchers found that the individuals actually lost weight and reduced their waist circumference (2).
Health advice has a peculiar tendency to later get disproved or turned on it's head. In fact we know so little about metabolism, that one of the most rigorous dietary studies ever devised is currently underway. The question the researcher are trying to answer is: Do we get fat because we overeat or because of the types of food we eat? While we wait for the answer in eager anticipation, maybe we should start to listen less to the experts and more to our bodies. If it feels right for you, it probably is.
Problem eating? Take the BBC test to find an eating plan to suit your personality type.
1. James A Betts, Judith D Richardson, Enhad A Chowdhury, Geoffrey D Holman, Kostas Tsintzas, and Dylan Thompson. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults. Am J Clin Nutr August 2014 vol. 100 no. 2 539-547
2. Sadiya A1, Ahmed S, Siddieg HH, Babas IJ, Carlsson M. Effect of Ramadan fasting on metabolic markers, body composition, and dietary intake in Emiratis of Ajman (UAE) with metabolic syndrome. Diabetes Metab Syndr Obes. 2011;4:409-16. doi: 10.2147/DMSO.S24221. Epub 2011 Dec 15.
3. Munsters MJM, Saris WHM (2012) Effects of Meal Frequency on Metabolic Profiles and Substrate Partitioning in Lean Healthy Males. PLoS ONE 7(6): e38632. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038632
4. Leidy HJ1, Campbell WW. The effect of eating frequency on appetite control and food intake: brief synopsis of controlled feeding studies. J Nutr. 2011 Jan;141(1):154-7.
5. Hatori M1, Vollmers C, Zarrinpar A, DiTacchio L, Bushong EA, Gill S, Leblanc M, Chaix A, Joens M, Fitzpatrick JA, Ellisman MH, Panda S. Time-restricted feeding without reducing caloric intake prevents metabolic diseases in mice fed a high-fat diet. Cell Metab. 2012 Jun 6;15(6):848-60. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2012.04.019. Epub 2012 May 17.