A small scale study in the US was set up to investigate the effects on weight loss of six small meals versus two meals a day. The study found that the women who ate a diet of six small meals a day retained more non-fat mass (muscle, bone and organs) as opposed to those who ate two larger meals however those who ate two larger meals seemed to improve their levels of ‘good’ cholesterol. However the study was too small to be conclusive and the authors warned that firm conclusions cannot be drawn.
The study was reported in the newspapers as a more positive result. The papers claimed that eating six small meals a day was good for a diet, and one paper included a celebrity that it claimed had lost weight on the diet. However the women in the study lost a similar amount of weight regardless of the amount of meals they ate.
Fifteen obese women who were not diabetic were recruited for the study. They were randomly assigned a diet of either six or two calorie-controlled meals. The meals were supplied by a commercial company which deliver calorie-controlled food portions to aid weight loss and the daily calorie allowance was around 1200 calories. The women initially started the trial on an average of 2,207 calories. Fluids were not monitored. The women were set either a two or six meal routine for two weeks then were given two weeks off before switching to the other pattern. The two weeks off consisted of three meals and a snack. Blood markers and the women’s body compositions were measured during the trial.
Eleven women finished the study – the others withdrew due to non-compliance with the diet, family problems or time constraints. Overall the women lost weight while following the diet, reducing their fat mass, percentage of body fat, waist circumference and BMI (Body Mass Index). Similar amounts of weight were lost on both programmes and there was no difference in the blood markers for insulin, fats in the blood or glucose. HDL (high-density lipoprotein or ‘good’ cholesterol) improved slightly when the women were eating two meals a day.
The study was too short to draw firm conclusions except that calorie-restricted diets can be helpful in losing weight and that there is very little difference in taking those calories in through either six small meals or two meals a day.
Alencar MK, et al. Increased meal frequency attenuates fat-free mass losses and some markers of health status with a portion-controlled weight loss diet. Nutrition Research. Published March 17 2015