Is Eating More Often Really the Key to Staying Thin?

Can eating more often help you stay thin?
Can eating more often help you stay thin?

A study in this month’s  Journal of the American Dietetic Association reports that people of normal weight eat more frequently (5 times per day on average) than overweight people (who average 4.2 times per day), suggesting that eating more frequently may be a key to maintaining a healthy weight.  At least, that’s what all the headlines will say–and this will fuel the popular myth that eating more frequently “revs up your metabolism.”

See also: Metabolism Myths

But let’s dig a little deeper, shall we?   Although they ate slightly more often, the normal weight people in this study still consumed fewer calories than overweight people.  More significantly, the normal weight people logged more than twice as much physical activity every week.  And we’re going to conclude that meal frequency is the most salient variable in this picture?

Do Thin People Eat More Often (or Just Remember Better)?

Finally–and I don’t mean this as a slam against people who are overweight, just a fact that must be considered when interpreting these results–it’s well-documented that people often under-estimate how much (and how often?) they eat. And the more overweight people are, the greater the disparity between what’s reported and what’s actually consumed.  How much of the difference in meal frequency can be chalked up to under-reporting?

Eating more often is not a good weight loss strategy.  

Look, I have nothing against snacking…I’m an enthusiastic snacker myself.  I just think it’s dangerous to suggest that eating more frequently is some sort of magic weight loss charm.   It’s not.  Despite the headlines, this study actually underlines  the fact that how much you eat (and how much you move) are the primary factors.

See also: How Often Should You Eat?

Here’s what I think is really going on:  Eating more frequently doesn’t automatically cause people to eat less.  However, people who eat less overall may find that they are more comfortable if they eat more frequently.  In other words:

If you want to lose weight, don’t eat more often. Eat less (more often).

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