Small Frequent Meals vs. Few Big Ones: A Weight Loss Comparison

One of the great debates in the world of nutrition and weight loss is whether it is more advantageous to consume small meals throughout the day or to limit eating to a few larger meals each day. A recent study published in the May issue of The Journal of Nutrition found that the difference may in fact be negligible.

The researchers for the present study acknowledged that data are lacking on the subject, and that the results of previous studies have been inconsistent.

“We examined the associations between eating frequency and 6-y changes in body mass index (BMI; in kg/m2), fat mass, fat-free mass, body fat percentage, and waist circumference,” the study authors wrote.

The cohort included 1,080 Danish men and 1,044 Danish women, all aged 35 to 67 years. Researchers evaluated the relationship between eating frequency at baseline and changes in BMI, fat mass, fat-free mass, fat percentage, and waist circumference. They also looked at the impact of change in initial eating frequency on the aforementioned outcomes.

There was no association between total baseline eating frequency and outcomes, but in analyzing regular meals and snacks, each additional daily meal resulted in a six-year BMI change of −0.14 (95% CI: −0.27, −0.00). “Similar tendencies of inverse associations were found for change in fat mass (P = 0.04), fat-free mass (P = 0.07), and waist circumference (P = 0.05),” the study authors added.

Although there was no relationship between initial change in total eating frequency and change in outcomes, for every regular meal added on a daily basis after five years, there was a six-year change in BMI of −0.16 (95% CI: −0.30, −0.01). Again, similar associations were observed for fat (P = 0.04) and fat-free mass (P = 0.05). Meanwhile, increased daily snacking was correlated with an increase in fat mass (P = 0.04) and fat percentage (P = 0.02).

The authors concluded that total eating frequency did not have a large impact on BMI, although daily meal consumption had a weak inverse relationship with BMI.