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If you haven’t come across the idea that eating 6-7 smaller meals per day rather than three square meals can ramp up your resting metabolic rate, thus increasing your calorie expenditure, you may be living under a nice, cozy rock. Sounds great right?  You get to eat three more times per day than previously recommended just a bit less per meal and you lose more weight! Wow! Why haven’t we been doing this since the dawn of man? (Well, maybe the fact that food was extremely scarce for the gatherer/hunters of yesteryear).

This quick and easy addition to the fitness arsenal has been around for years and years hiding from that big, cozy rock hovering above many of our heads. But much like the groundbreaking discovery that the earth was no longer flat but round and tilted on an axis, a longstanding idea with fairly credible evidence to back it up may very well crumble under the weight of newfound reason.

This six meal theory arose as a result of several studies based upon “the thermic effect of food.” Basically the tenant dictates that when we consume any form of substance with caloric value the body must “burn” the calories and break it down so as to be utilized efficiently by the body. For the sake of clarity and simplicity let’s say that 10% of the total calories are used for digestion before anything else. This means that if you take in a meal that has a total of 400 calories, 40 of those calories alone will be used just to break it down. Multiply this value by six and you have a deficit of 240 calories just by eating six meals. Wait. Something is wrong.

So if you eat a meal  that is 800 calories, you burn 80 in digestion x 3 for 3 meals and you have 240. Exactly the same. One study published within The British Journal of Nutrition demonstrated just this. The subjects of the trial, men and women, consumed the same number of calories throughout a twenty-four hour period but one group scarfed it down in three meals and the other grazed in six meals. The results depicted a very different picture than what the media touts nowadays. According to The New York Times, “Both groups lost significant and equivalent amounts of weight. There was no difference between them in fat loss, appetite control or measurements of hormones that signal hunger and satiety.”

So there you have it. Note, though, that I am speaking of this only in terms of weight loss and not in overall health. There are some studies that show a different picture in terms of overall health when eating more frequently. But this is a different topic for another day.

So without going too far into the science behind it, the message I would like you to take away with above all else, is to question everything (even this article). Do your research on both sides of the fence and try different things to find what best suits you. Everybody is different and responds differently to varying stimuli. One person responds better to protein while the other soaks up carbs marvelously. Do your homework and reap the benefits.

O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Eat Six Small Meals a Day Instead of Three Big Ones.” The New York Times. March 23, 2010

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