Many experts suggest that breaking the usual three square meals into several small meals throughout the day will help keep hunger at bay and energy levels high, ultimately leading to a few less pounds on the scale. Hey, it worked for Jennifer Hudson. But a recent study suggests that larger meals might trump mini-meals when it comes to losing weight.
A study from Purdue University in Indiana found that not everyone is satiated when eating smaller meals. “There’s a lot of lay press about eating frequency,” lead author Dr. Heather Leidy told Reuters Health. “These mini-meals everyone is talking about don’t seem to be as beneficial as far as appetite control.” The results have been published in the most recent issue of Obesity.
Dr. Leidy and her team investigated a small group of overweight and obese men and found that participants on a low-calorie, high-protein diet were more satisfied and less hungry when they ate three times a day than they were eating six times a day. All the men were consuming 750 less calories a day than they needed to maintain their current weight, so it’s impressive that hunger wasn’t an issue for them.
So is it time to give up your mini-meals and snacks? Not so fast – everyone’s different and at the end of the day, the best diet is the one that works for you. Do you find yourself ravenous at dinnertime and completely unable to control the urge to eat every last morsel on your already-large plate? Mini-meals might be the right solution for you to help keep your hunger at manageable levels throughout the day. However, if you have a tendency to over-indulge at every meal regardless of your hunger level, treating yourself to six meals a day might be a recipe for disaster. Point is, find what works for you.
Plus, even the researchers are quick to point out that meal frequency isn’t necessarily the most important factor when it comes to weight loss – the amount of protein you’re eating may be more crucial. The study also measured the effect of both high and low protein diets on appetite, and not surprisingly, the high protein diet came out on top. In fact, for the participants on the low protein diet, meal frequency didn’t make a difference at all – they reported feeling more hungry whether they were eating three times a day or six times a day. The study also only looked at a small group of men, and so any results would have to repeated with a much larger sample group to see if it is applicable to the general population.
However, that’s not to say that you should throw out your pasta, potatoes and fruit either – the results don’t support a no-carb approach. “We very clearly want people to know that this is not an Atkins-style diet,” that participants followed, said Dr. Leidy. “You’re still getting an adequate amount of fiber and fruits and vegetables with these diets.”
So whether you’re eating several small meals or three large ones, remember this: Protein and fiber is best for keeping you satisfied and energetic. And if you are a fan of frequent mini-meals, make sure you’re aiming for more of a snack-sized portion than a buffet-caliber feast.