22

It is commonly suggested, in the body building world, that the following eating strategy rises metabolism and inhibits the production of fat tissue:

  • Eat a substantial meal every 2 to 3 hours (six times a day)
  • Keep the overall caloric intake unchanged, or within norm
  • Prefer protein over carbohydrates and fats

The idea is that the body enters a "starvation" mode after that amount of time, leading to a slowing on metabolism to conserve energy and the activation of energy storing mechanisms. Also, not reducing caloric intake prevents "starvation" mode from kicking in.

While clearly plausible, does this make any sense biologically? Have any studies proven its efficacy at all, or is it all a myth?

  • 1
    "The idea is that the body enters a "starvation" mode after that amount of time, leading to a slowing on metabolism to conserve energy and the activation of energy storing mechanisms. Also, not reducing caloric intake prevents "starvation" mode from kicking in." So, is it entering starvation mode or not? It can't both enter starvation mode, and not enter starvation mode. Humans are evolved to eat less often, not more. If you think about the hunter gatherer lifestyle where we spent the majority of our evolution, we'd have small amount of plant matter (non-protein) pretty frequently, then huge g – Blind Mouse Mar 5 '11 at 1:19
  • With respect, I think the question is confusing two different aspect of the debate. Some fitness and body-building experts assert that attempts to lose weight by trying to significantly reduce calorific intake are certain to fail. They say that sooner or later the body will interpret the greatly reduced intake as if food is scarce and there is risk of starvation. The body's survival mechanism then takes over, leading to very strong cravings to intake substantial amounts of food. These same experts suggest that a much wiser and more successful course is to eat small but healthy meals fr – user1685 Apr 7 '11 at 16:03
  • Might be more appropriate question for fitness.stackexchange.com – chrisjlee Aug 15 '11 at 3:07
17

I usually find that the body building realm is full of weird nutritional myths, but after some poking around, it seems that a lot of articles writing about it actually did say they were citing a "scientific study", without providing any links.

At last I've found this article from the British Medical Journal that seems to be what everybody's talking about:

increased daily frequency of eating was inversely and significantly associated with lower concentrations of total cholesterol and low density lipoprotein cholesterol. * BMJ

Note that this is an observational study (actually, tapping into the data of a cohort study on a completely different topic), and not an experiment. This is of course often the case with social studies, but I don't think there would've been ethical implications with arranging an experiment of this one. That way we could've been more certain about the conclusions.

Right now, all we know is that there's a correlation. It might very well be that frequent meals and the low cholestorol both are the effects of a common - unknown - cause, rather than the latter causing the former.

The evidence that does suggest that the study published in BMJ is actually a causal relationship, is that similar effects have been found in an experimental study on animals.

It should be noted, that although the cited literature seems to be in favor of the conclusion, there may well be other health concerns related to frequent meals; particularly with regards to dental health.

  • 5
    That quote confuses me-- increased frequency is inversely associated with lower cholesterol says, to me, that if you eat more often you will experience higher levels of cholesterol. – oosterwal Apr 8 '11 at 16:15
  • 1
    @oosterwal: Hah, you're right, it didn't occur to me when I read it. That seems to be an inadvertent double negative there, they don't consequently repeat that mistake in the article. – David Hedlund Apr 8 '11 at 16:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .