Saturday, September 25, 2010

Is eating 6 meals a day instead of 3 a better weight loss strategy?

I’ve come across a significant number of non-peer reviewed articles on the internet about weight loss, body building etc. that advocates eating 6 meals a day (just Google "3 meals or 6 meals" to see what I mean). Reasons given for doing so includes less fluctuation in blood glucose and lower fat storage among others. But is eating 6 meals instead of 3 a day really beneficial for someone trying to cut some flab? Some researchers think not.

In an article published in Obesity, Leidy and colleagues (2010) investigated how differing amount of dietary protein and eating frequency influences our perceived appetite and satiety levels during weight loss. 

In a 12 week experiment, 27 obese men were randomized into either the high protein or normal protein group and were required to engaged in a weight-loss diet that is 750kcal/day lower than their daily needs. Beginning on the 7th week, all participants alternated between 3 meals a day or 6 meals a day, each lasting for 3 days. Information on their perception of daily hunger, desire to eat and thinking about food were recorded and compared.

  • The high protein group felt fuller, had lower desire to snack at night and thought less about food than the normal protein group.
  • Eating 3 or 6 meals a day did not have any effect on hunger, fullness, desire to eat nor preoccupation with thoughts of food.

The take-home message? Getting on a high protein diet appears to be a viable weight loss strategy because it gives you better control over your appetite and satiety but switching to a 6 meals a day strategy appears not to be helpful in these areas.

Furthermore, some previous studies have found a relationship between higher meal frequency and higher colon cancer risk (eg. Shoff et al, 2000 (for women), Wei et al. 2004(for men)). So I were you, I'll think twice about adopting that 6 meals a day plan too readily.
Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CL, Martin CB, & Campbell WW (2010). The Effects of Consuming Frequent, Higher Protein Meals on Appetite and Satiety During Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Men. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.) PMID: 20847729
Wei, J., Connelly, A., Satia, J., Martin, C., & Sandler, R. (2004). Eating Frequency and Colon Cancer Risk Nutrition and Cancer, 50 (1), 16-22 DOI: 10.1207/s15327914nc5001_3
Shoff, S., Newcomb, P., & Longnecker, M. (1997). Frequency of eating and risk of colorectal cancer in women Nutrition and Cancer, 27 (1), 22-25 DOI: 10.1080/01635589709514496


  1. The point of eating 6 meals a day vs 3 meals a day has nothing to do with the individuals "perception of daily hunger, desire to eat and thinking about food."

    The point of eating 6 meals a day is to maintain a higher metabolic rate over time so that your body will burn more calories total. I just did a quick Google search on "6 meals a day": 5 out of the 6 top results mention that the purpose is to increase your metabolism. I understand the point of measuring the above criteria for the overall effectiveness of a diet, but...

    I apologize if my comment comes off a bit brash; I must admit I'm a little tired and cranky at the moment.

  2. @Ken I understand where you are coming from but a cursory search on the literature suggests that there is no clear consensus about whether having higher meal frequency boosts metabolism.

    Another interesting read which seems credible enough can be found here:

    They mentioned that regardless of whether you have a 3 or 6 meal diet, if you want to lose weight; what it comes down to is consuming fewer calories than you expend.

    Unfortunately, I am not aware of any studies that have been done that provide substantial evidence to support the link between more frequent meals and better metabolism. However, being an avid proponent of the importance of living a healthy lifestyle myself, I would be very interested to read about them if you know of any. Thanks for your comment.