Eating small meals does not increase metabolism

There has been this myth propagating throughout the internet that eating small, frequent meals throughout the day boosts your metabolism.  When you don’t understand how the body works, it might make logical sense.  If your eating more meals, your body is constantly having to digest food.  It sounds logical that because your body is almost always digesting throughout the day, your metabolism must be elevated because of this.  This theory follows the concept of diet induced thermogenesis (DIT).  Thermogenesis is the process of heat production in living organisms.  DIT occurs when you ingest food.  Your body must convert the food to energy and during this process, heat is produced.  Back in 1986, a study conducted in dogs birthed the myth of higher metabolism by increasing your meal frequency.

The Dog Study

dog eating cookie treat boost metabolism by increasing meal frequency


Back in 1986, researchers conducted a study on dogs to determine if altering meal frequency and size would have any affect on the DIT effect and therefore effect on the total metabolism.  They had one group of dogs they fed only one large meal per day and another group of dogs they fed four large meals.  They determined the DIT effect of the dogs who ate four small meals was twice as large as the dogs that age one large meal.  Now lets not downplay the significance of this study. If you have a fat dog then this is likely a good strategy to assist weight loss in your furry puggle.  Lets not get ahead of ourselves though. Just because a dog can eat more meals and have a higher metabolism doesn’t mean its true for humans.  Regardless, the suggestion of eating small meals to boost metabolism was born.

What Human Trials Actually Tell Us

There is a wealth of research surrounding meal timing and calorie intake.  The one problem with almost all of this research is that it relies on people self reporting what they ate.  People inherently under-report what they eat for a variety of reasons.  This creates a problem with this kind of research, however.  If a study is being conducted on humans to determine if metabolism is increased by increasing meal frequency and a subsequent result is weight loss, under-reporting of actual calorie intake will severely alter the results.  Why would under-reporting calorie intake alter the results of this kind of study? Well since we know eating food causes a thermic effect in our bodies, the more food you eat, the greater the thermic effect that will be measured (especially comparing the thermic effect of different nutrients).  If a study subject is under-reporting calorie intake, it will appear that DIT is elevated, when it reality DIT is normal for the amount of calories the study subject actually ate.  So what does this all mean?

This means any study that relied on self reported intake cannot be trusted.  Controlled studies would be the only reliable source of data in this situation.  Recent research published just last year took a look at a large amount of research that had been conducted previously and aimed to isolate all the research and determine what the outcomes were of research that was conducted in isolation.

This study came to some very striking conclusions.

The first conclusion they came to was controlled intervention trials, whilst limited in sample size and duration, have shown little or no beneficial impact of increased meal frequency on body weight and health under either eucaloric or hypocaloric conditions.

So in other words, there is no benefit to humans consuming either a balanced diet or a diet that is reduced in calories when eating more frequent meals.  The second conclusion they came to was detrimental to your health.

They determined increased meal frequency was detrimental to metabolic health under conditions of energy excess.

They realized that increasing meal frequency AND eating more calories than you need created a larger negative impact on your metabolic health than if you just ate more calories alone.  This is something very important to take note of.


Eating small meals to boost metabolism might sound like a logical idea with in reality the research on controlled studies does not support this notion of a higher metabolism.  As we realized, the small meals metabolism myth started with a study on dogs.  The faster metabolism dogs experienced doesn’t seem to translate to the human body, however. While that research is great news for your puppy, people looking for ways to boost metabolism and lose weight should be looking towards other methods that have scientific research to support the diet.  Intermittent fasting is a tried and true method of weight loss and throughout the research into meal frequency it was also determined that there are other benefits of fasting on metabolism and health.  So sorry to say but if you have been eating smalls meals to increase your metabolism its not actually working like you expected.  Want a faster metabolism?  Start lifting weights!






One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s