Another Study “Questioning the Logic” of the 6 Meal Per Day Diet Plan

October 6, 2007

A big argument for eating 6 meals per day, is that the 6 small meals supposedly increases the metabolic rate.

It is also argued that if you skip meals, you metabolism will shut down and your body will hoard fat. Well the British Journal of Nutrition has cited a study which proves this theory wrong.
Thai Food

(I LOVE Thai food more than anything! Well…almost anything!)

Meal Frequency and Energy Balance

This journal pulled together the results of several studies, which took two groups eating the same amount of calories. One group ate 3 meals and the other group ate 6 meals. What they found was that your metabolic increase was based on daily calories and had nothing to do with meal frequency.

What Other Nutritionists Say About Eating Several Small Meals

Lyle McDonald had this to say in summarizing meal frequency:

TEF (Thermogenic Effect of Food) differs for the different nutrients, on average it constitutes about 10% of a typical mixed diet. So every time you eat, your metabolic rate goes up a little bit due to TEF.

Aha!

Eat more and metabolic rate goes up more, right?

Except, let’s think about that….Say we have two people, both eating 3000 calories per day. One eats 6 meals of 500 calories/meal while the other eats 3 meals of 1000 calories/meal.

The first will have a TEF of 50 calories (10% of 500) 6 times/day. The second will have a TEF of 100 calories (10% of 1000 calories) 3 times/day. Well, 6X50 = 300 calories/day and 3X100 = 300 calories/day.

No difference.

Sure, if you increase food intake from, say, 1500 calories to 2000 calories, you will burn more with TEF; but this has nothing to do with meal frequency, it has to do with eating more food.

So Your Metabolic Rate Will Not Increase By Eating Frequently

This just shatters the long-held belief that eating every few hours keeps your metabolism high. If eating 6 meals per day seems natural then by all means eat 6 times a day, but if eating just once or twice a day feels more natural…that is fine as well.

I like eating just one major meal per day along with a couple of small snacks. The main thing is to eat fewer calories than what you burn if you want to lose weight.

Don’t make it more difficult than that.

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler Durden October 6, 2007 at 6:04 am

yeah, one-two meal per day rule!
i used to eat 5-6meals before and i was always hungry, i always thought about eating..6meals a day is not natural at all..your body wasn’t meant to digest all day long:) And i didn’t drop an ounce of fat either since there was no calorie restriction.
By the way it was more difficult to organize a program because i felt like i had to solve my food intake at all costs:) if i didn’t i mentally imagined my body hoarding fat and burning off hard earned muscle:)) it was ridiculous
Life is much simplier than thinking about eating all the time!

Ash October 6, 2007 at 6:54 am

It just goes to show what people have been spouting off for so many years about the 6 meals a day plan boils down to nothing?? I look at it like this, if your body needs energy it will go hunting for it, if you’ve stocked up on energy the day before your body will hunt for that….has anyone got any meal / menu plans?

Magnate October 6, 2007 at 12:13 pm

The results of 6 meals a day speak for themselves.

admin October 6, 2007 at 1:00 pm

Magnate,

I think that eating 6 meals per day is a good “muscle gaining” strategy…especially for people who want to gain a lot of muscle. I just don’t think it is necessary as far as maintaing or dropping body fat.

I’m all for six meals per day if it works for people…I just like people to know that it isn’t absolutely necessary and that there are other alternatives.

Rusty

Jennifer October 7, 2007 at 12:07 am

I like having three square meals because I find even with the best intentions, if I eat 6 times/day I tend to eat too much at each sitting (even if it is just 50 calories over each meal that is a total of 300 extra calories potentially per day and 30 pounds over the course of a year, since 1 pound of fat is equal to approx. 3500 calories). I stay fairly lean on the three meal/day plan, with breakfast and lunch being fairly light, with some protein and carbs to kick start the metabolism, but not feel like I’m digesting huge amounts of food all day while working. I usually have a protein shake and fruit for breakfast and a salad with some chicken or fish for lunch and then basically whatever I want for dinner…sometimes not so healthy!

admin October 7, 2007 at 1:29 am

Jennifer,

Yeah…I take a similar approach…just a bit lighter during the day.

I wind up eating kind of junky for dinner at least once or twice a week and can still maintain low body fat with this approach…that is why I like it so much!

Rusty

Jason October 8, 2007 at 3:00 pm

Thai food is THE best Asian food…ever. Toi Thai on Sunset, FTW!

john October 9, 2007 at 9:55 pm

One of the leanest guys I know fasts for religous purposes once every now and then. He is about 6’1 and 185lbs…origionally he says he started out very slender then bulked up by eating several small meals per day. He claims not to eat much when he is not working out, nore does he rush to down a hi gi carb protien shake after working out. Point being that fasting has not made this friend of mine waste away as some experts would say. He just simply eats one meal per day for 3 days…but does no activity in the gym that would burn glycogen. This brings me to highlight that when a person is really “fit” they are aways burning fat for fuel. The fitter you are, the higher your threshold before you actually start burining carbs for fuel. Some people can burn fat up until 70% of thier vo2max. That is why interval training works…it makes you fitter.

Consider this. An overwieght person has trouble just walking around from point a-b right? They are burning glycogen and if they do not eat back those calories they loose muscle…this is why I think dieting results in great lbm losses for deconditioned people.

A fit person can perform short busts of activity and then eat just enough to replenish lost glycogen but still burn fat. Consider boxers and gymnasts…athletes that undereat when trying to make weight, and thier physiques aren’t exactly weak right?
They perform brief and intense sessions, eat just enough to fuel effort and recovery and they get leaner.

Prisioners also have beautiful bodies…and they eat what, 3, 4 times a day max?

I also think some bodybuilders may have a tough time getting lean because they are simply not athletic…It takes a lot of effort to move around a big ass body even if it is all muscle.

admin October 9, 2007 at 11:13 pm

John,

Awesome comments, buddy. I enjoy your thoughtful insights on fitness…seriously john, if you don’t have a blog or website rolling by 2008…I’m going to have to hire you.

Great, great, great explanation of how “the lean get leaner”. It would be cool to do an interview on your friend at some point in the future as well.

Rusty

john October 10, 2007 at 8:20 pm

Thanks Rusty, I appreciate the compliments…keep the cool blogs comming.

Jay October 16, 2007 at 7:05 pm

Rusty,

How do you know how much carbs, protein etc to consume on a daily basis given that you consume 1 large meal a day? Does it really matter? I want to lose weight but at the same time i’m scared of losing muscle. Can you give me an example of something you might have in a day?

Much is appreciated.
Thanks.

admin October 17, 2007 at 1:43 am

Jay,

Sure…There are several variations of the warrior diet. The whole idea is to let the body get hungry by fasting a bit during the day followed by a large meal at night. Some people eat nothing except that one meal, but that is strict. Other people snack on fruit and quick digesting lean protein a little during the day.

So today was a typical day for the way I normally eat.

1) I had a 300 calorie protein shake at 7:00AM.
2) An apple at noon
3) An orange at 2:00
4) 3 cups of green tea
5) Worked out 6:00-7:15
6) Ate at 8:00…Two chicken breasts with steamed rice and microwaved frozen corn. A cup of vanilla yogurt for dessert 30 minutes later.

So really, I do start my day with a high quality protein shake. Then I snack on fruit during the day. I am trying to make this become my only option now during the day…I feel better than ever now that I’m eating a lot of fruit.

At night I eat a healthy meal most of the time. I just don’t crave the fatty foods like I used to.

As far as losing muscle…I am just going to cut and paste part of Ori’s Interview. He just words things so well..

Interviewer: Interesting, what is the instinctive anabolic drive?

Ori: When you avoid eating and let the sympathetic nervous dominate during the day, you generate much more energy then if you eat. Our energy production does not depend on the food that we eat. It depends on the state of our hormonal, glandular, and neurotransmitter balance. If these are regulated by the sympathetic nervous system, then your growth hormone is high and other hormones are intact.

Basically, you will produce much more energy then if you ate. People are fit based on their use of energy production and utilization. There is no reason why anyone should be fat! If you are fat, then you have a problem with energy utilization. If you go with the flow of your own energy, you will avoid getting fat. Activate the sympathetic nervous system during the day, feed your brain, and at night have a feast and feed the parasympathetic nervous system.

Interviewer: Okay, lets get back to the anabolic drive?

Ori: The current way to activate the anabolic drive, is too eat six times a day and consume tons of protein that will build muscle. This process has terrible side effects. Also bodybuilders tend to revolve around two seasons: the off-season and the season. In the off-season you put on tons of weight and in the season you lean up and whatever is left over is what you gained.

Some of the side effects of this process are big guts and poor digestion. If you want to reach a maximum anabolic state, all you have to do is undereat. When you undereat, especially about 10-16 hours, the body gets a signal to recuperate and build stronger fibers. In addition, if done correctly, when you undereat, your protein utilization picks up by 160%!

—————————————————————-

So Jay, by undereating and fasting a bit, you will utilize the protein you eat better in your one big meal. You simply don’t need as much protein to maintain your current muscle mass.

I don’t track how much protein I eat, but it has to be around 120-150 grams max. Probably closer to 120.

You really should read Ori’s interview…it will really open your mind when it comes to eating.

http://bodybuilding.com/fun/mahler49.htm

Just so you know. Ori Hofmekler is 50 years old, gained 12 pounds of muscle last year and “easily maintained” 5-6% body fat year round. This is why I repsect the man so much…he is an amazing role model.

Rusty

Jay October 17, 2007 at 7:21 pm

Rusty,

That leads me to my next question… (sorry to bombard you with so many) what is considered good quality Protein? There are so many out there that claim to be of high quality. I’ve tried quite a few already and I must admit, it’s the taste that bothers me more than anything. Majority taste disgusting! Not to mention I’m lactose intolerance. Can you recommend something?

BTW, thanks for your previous comments – really helpful stuff. I might give it ago and try one large meal a day.

Cheers.

admin October 17, 2007 at 8:22 pm

Jay,

For just a pure protein…the best of the best is Next Nutrition’s Designer Whey Protein.

Since you are in Australia, you can order it at http://www.bodybuilding.com.

It is such a big brand, that you could probably find it in Australia.

If you want a morning meal replacement powder…you can’t go wrong with Myoplex by EAS. The strawberry flavor is the best tasting protein powder I have ever had.

Great stuff,

Rusty

PS: Both “EAS” and “Next Nutrition”, produce outstanding supplements.

Stephanie October 19, 2007 at 1:46 pm

Growing up I was a one meal a day kind of girl. Not because I was trying to lose weight, but because I was always so busy! (Between school, soccer practice and work, I could only fit dinner into my schedule!) College came, I gained weight (The freshman 20 in my case, I went from 112 to 132!) lost a little, but stayed around 125. After graduation I went up to 130, where I have stayed. I use to eat 5-6 small meals a day, and workout for an hour and a half (45 minutes of cardio, 45 minutes of strength training) but nothing! Frustrated, I gave up.

2 weeks ago, I started a new ADD medication. It didnt really suppress my appetite, but it did make me crave water. I didn’t feel the need to eat all the time, and drinking so much water really curbed my appitite. I was warned by my friends that it would make me fat (only eating dinner) but finally I can see definition in my midsection and my pants are loose in the waist(though I have not weighed myself). I maintain my normal activity (walking my dogs, playing sports) and overall feel so much better (I use to have chronic stomach aches). I really have no desire to eat during the day, so is it ok to maintain this lifestyle for an extended period of time? (I should note that on Sundays I force myself to eat more, although I am not hungry)

admin October 20, 2007 at 9:19 pm

Stephanie,

Yeah…this is a long-term way of eating. Ori Hofmekler, the guy who really mastered this diet plan is 50 years old and is as healthy as they get. He says he easily maintains 5-6% body fat year round on this diet and has more energy than ever.

You will learn to really enjoy this way of eating!

Rusty

damon October 25, 2007 at 11:50 am

Ive beeen doing the 5 meal approach . I usually have oatmeal protein shake then protein bar then grilled chicken salad the protein bar then grilled chick salad. Ive gotten my weight all the way down to 174 but i hate being hungry all the time. I wanted to go to protein bar breakfeast and the grilled chicken for lunch and dinner? could i add dressing and would that work? also what about the people that say when u eat less meals it puts you into starvation mode and holds on to fat and then when you eat something youll gain the weight all back?

thanks rusty

admin October 25, 2007 at 6:43 pm

Damon,

Read this post Skipping Meals Will Not Slow Your Metabolism…Also read the link to Ori’s Blog on “Starvation Mode”. This will make sense!

Rusty

PS: Feel free to add dressing as long as your total calories for the day are low. It shouldn’t be a problem with the meal plan you outlined.

james October 29, 2007 at 1:13 am

wait, so your telling me if i eat 2,500 calories in the morning. i’m set for the day? the reason why i eat six meals a day is for a steady amount of energy throughout my day. even with tons of complex carbohydrates in the morning, theres no way its going to fuel you for your whole day

admin October 29, 2007 at 12:55 pm

James,

I do have a longer post about eating one meal per day as well. The gentleman who fine tuned this idea, Ori Hofmekler, has a good interview here:

http://bodybuilding.com/fun/mahler49.htm

As far as timing of eating the one big meal, night time is better than the morning. I realize it is a radical idea and not for everyone. The energy throuout the day comes from stored body fat. You will actually get lean quickly on this diet.

Rusty

justin November 2, 2007 at 4:30 pm

your body will tell you if you need to eat and how much. The mixture of foods that you eat is the only thing you should concentrate on.

salman November 10, 2008 at 1:39 pm

hi rusty,
I got evrything here
for fatloss but most important thing is u didn’t wrote about sideeffect of fat percen, if body goes below 7% thn its not safe n healthy n cause severe problems
so plz plz help

Susan February 17, 2009 at 6:03 pm

Hi Rusty,

I stumbled across your website yesterday and I must say, WOW!!!! Thank you, thank you, thank you for these great dieting articles!

I am a 36 year old single mom living in Towson, MD who works-out incessantly (and always has). My friends even call me the gym nazi! hahaha! And although I’m in excellent shape and am muscular, I’ve been struggling (and I mean STRUGGGGLLLING) with my weight for a long time now. I’m 10 pounds overweight and have a small gut… I need to shed weight and have tried EVERY diet under the sun.

I have been SO bought into this 6-small-meals-a-day crap for so long, that it never even occurred to me that there was actually another school of thought out there regarding weight-loss. The media and the Weight Watchers gurus of the world have us all brain-washed into thinking that this is the only way to lose weight. Yet it has never worked for me… but I never thought that I could change it without endangering my health! So I have been spinning my wheels for years now!!! I cannot tell you how many times I would start on a Monday my little 6-small-meals diet… counting out and pre-packaging every single calorie down to the very last morsel (12 raw almonds, 1 apple, 1 egg-white omelet with asparagus, large salad with low-fat dressing, etc. haha!), eat all the right foods, exercise 6-7 days a week, and still my weight would eeeeek down a pound or two and I would be so frustrated.

Then last year, I decided to enter my very first triathlon sprint here in Columbia, MD. I was training (no exaggeration) some days 3 hours a day, no less than 6 days a week… from February up to my event in August. Yes, I lost some weight, but not like you would have thought. I couldn’t believe it! I was killing myself with exercise: swimming laps, running, weight-training, taking spin classes, step aerobics, biking outdoors, kick-boxing… you name it. So your theory that when you train on an empty stomach your body actually taps into your fat storage AS OPPOSED TO USING THE FOOD CALORIES IN YOUR MUSCLES… it was like someone hit me in the head. All those hours last year killing myself exercising and burning thousands of calories, only to see a little weight come off… it was because I wasn’t really getting to my fat storage… I was simply burning food energy!

I’ve started Day 1 of this eating 1-meal-a-day idea. I did the sacred heart diet for the past 7 days (it ended yesterday) and I shed 9 pounds. I’m sure most of this is water weight, but I ran 5 miles every single day and am fitting into a smaller pant size, so who knows? Anyway, I followed your advice today and drank a low-sugar whey protein shake this morning (100 calories), had one for lunch + an apple (170 calories) and will make myself a healthy dinner tonight. Yes, I’ve been hungry, but another great thing that you write about is also a “crazy” concept in this brain-washed society: IT’S OKAY TO BE HUNGRY!!! It’s actually okay!!!! Oh, my god, I feel like I’ve been given permission to let myself feel a little hungry!!!

I also followed your advice of combining interval cardio (HIIT) with the steady cardio + weight-training. I did your routine last night and today at around noon. I’ve already been met with criticism from people worried that my metabolism will shut down (haha!) and worried I’ll starve myself. You put it best when you said something along the lines of: it’s politically incorrect to criticize someone when they overeat, but somehow okay for everyone to lend their opinion when you skip a meal or two. That is SO true!!! Let me ask you this though: I plan events for a large university. When I’m not at events though, I spend a lot of time sitting at a desk. I hate this about my job, but a lot of days, I’ll be at my computer almost all day. Can I still lose weight doing the one-meal-a-day diet? I normally exercise after work, at around 5:30 p.m. Please advise…

I have found your articles FASCINATING. I love that you research things too. THANK YOU! I think you’re amazing!!!! I will let you know how I do on my new plan!!! p.s. I’m signed up for the Iron Girl ’09, baby! And this year, I will be much, much leaner! I just know it!

Alec June 14, 2009 at 11:15 am

Not exactly sure what you’re trying to say here, but eating six meals a day is unrealistic for most people.

Rich May 9, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Everyone needs to find what works for them. I started a bit over a month ago to eat 5 or six 300 to 350 calorie meals each day. I have started to increase my exercise, but need to do better. In the first four weeks, I lost 16 lbs and three inches off my waist.

This is an easy long term life style for me. Do I believe that it will increase my metabolic rate? Not really. But I do find that it cuts down my craving for high calorie binge snacks. If I find myself hungry, I just remind myself that I have a meal coming up in 30 or 45 minutes.

The key is to plan out your meals in advance, make them something that you really like to eat, and being sure you get a good mix of protein and fiber in each meal.

Example: my “second breafast” this morning was 3/4 cup of fresh berries mixed in with 6 oz. of light vinilla yogurt and a Fiber One bar. Almost like desert. And it kept me going to “first lunch”!

moby December 30, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Years ago I read the Stanley Burrough’s book, “The Master Cleanse.” After the cleanse, Stanley advocated a one-meal-per-day plan. – I cannot tell you how much better I felt going to one meal per day. I was actually more energetic and alert during my work day, and I slept like a baby after my evening meal. I lost 40 pounds without even trying.

Wali Ghafar November 3, 2011 at 1:51 am

In response to Tyler Durden:

But if you think that eating five to six meals per day doesn’t work, what about bodybuilders and other athletes? I know several people who eat small frequent meals per day and lose tons of weight. The thing is is that you have eat a lot of the right foods and I think you know by now what they are.

Sydney January 20, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Hi Rusty,

Is this really the best way in the long run? I know that you said that Ori is 50 and has been doing this but how do you get the recommended daily intake of food? I am a 17 year old girl and for the past year I’ve been eating the 5-6 meal plan a day, I’m in good shape but I do have a little bit of fat on my stomach and thighs. I’m also fairly active and very health conscious. There’s so much information out there that it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t and whats good for you and whats not!

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