Can You Lose Weight by Eating More Often?

In the Abs Diet, David Zinczenko claims that eating more frequently helps burn more fat. Is six meals a day the secret to losing weight?

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
5-minute read
Episode #464

We can also find some studies which seem to support the idea that eating more frequently might help with weight loss. For example, eating more frequently has been shown to improve appetite control and this may help people avoid overeating. But this is not the same thing as revving up your fat-burning metabolism. It’s just a way of managing your behavior.

There's a Study to Support Every Conclusion

Here's the thing about nutrition research—especially the kind that involves humans. No matter what question you are asking, there are usually multiple studies with conflicting results. That means that if you start with a certain conviction or point of view, you can almost always find at least one study to back you up. You can stop as soon as you find a study that says what you want it to. Or, you can look at all the studies and see where the consensus lies. 

People who ate more than 3 times a day weighed more than those who ate less frequently.

In 2011, the International Society of Sports Nutrition published a position paper in which they reviewed all the relevant research on this question. They agreed that for elite athletes who are on restricted calorie diets, eating more frequently can help preserve muscle mass. However, they also concluded that more frequent meals will not affect body composition in more sedentary populations, and that increasing meal frequency will not help anyone burn more calories.

A few years later, in 2014, Professor Ashima Kant looked at 16 different studies on meal frequency and published her analysis in the journal Advances in Nutrition.

“Frequent eating is associated with higher energy intake, yet beliefs about the possible beneficial effect of higher eating frequency for managing body weight persist,” she writes. Overall, the [...] findings [...] suggest that beliefs about the role of higher eating frequency in adult weight management are not supported by evidence.”

Will Eating More Frequently Help You Lose Weight?

Over the last ten years (and more), I’ve taken a lot of stances on various aspects of nutrition, informed by the available research. Sometimes, newer research prompts me to change my position. But in this case, I’m sticking with what I said ten years ago. 

If eating smaller more frequent meals helps you manage your appetite better and allows you to make better choices, go for it. But eating more frequentlyin and of itselfis unlikely to have a measurable effect on your metabolism or abdominal fat. And if you do favor more frequent meals, be careful that eating more frequently doesn’t lead you to eat more than you need.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.