OK. It’s already been established that eating Mini-Meals, or spreading your caloric intake out over several eating events during the day, does not impact metabolic rate or on its own burn more calories than fewer meals eaten over the course of the day.
For all the details, see Mini-Meals and Metabolic Rates: Fact Or Fitness Myth?
Yet I know that many women swear by this method as a weight-management and control measure. At the same time, knowing that metabolic rate is not effected by same, I suspect that one reason this may be a positive weight loss or weight control tool is because the planning that may be involved – and executed – pays off!
For example, if you portion or otherwise plan out the content for your mini-meals for the day, and adhere to the planned meals, then you have created a plan-for-success situation, which may well be paying off for you. This is just good planning, and if the process and the results are delivering, then more power to you!
I wanted to be sure to point out that there are some circumstances, other than simple metabolic concerns or weight management, that the mini-meal approach may be beneficial.
When Mini Meals Might Be The Best Choice:
The most obvious circumstances under which mini meals are the best choice is when larger meals are simply not well tolerated. For example:
1) Active children, who may have smaller appetites and smaller stomachs, yet still need the fuel for growth, repair, and maintenance, and
2) Older adults, who may have diminished appetites or interest in food for a number of reasons
In both of the above circumstances, it becomes important to have high quality food frequently available, to be sure these individuals are eating enough!
Additional Reasons You May Do Well With Mini Meals:
3) Appetite Control: for some people, eating smaller frequent snacks flattens the hunger profile: this means that for some, not allowing yourself to get as hungry between meals makes you less likely to gorge at mealtimes. (Note: At the same time, there is evidence that more frequent eating keeps hunger levels elevated due to the repeated stimulation of insulin release upon the occasion of eating. This may explain the checkered experience women have with different eating schedules. Time for more research!)
4) Possible Cholesterol Control: some short term studies in humans have indicated that people who eat six times a day or more have lower total blood cholesterol and lower LDL (the “bad”) cholesterol compared to those eating only three times a day or less. Recently, a large scale study of over 14,000 middle-aged British adults found that as meal frequency increased, blood cholesterol fell (both total and LDL cholesterol). These findings held true even when possible confounding factors like body mass index, cigarette smoking, physical activity and dietary intake were taken into account.
[Ref: Titan SMO, Bingham S, Welch A, Luben R, Oakes S, Day N Khaw KT (2001) Frequency of eating and concentrations of serum cholesterol in the Norfolk population of the European prospective investigation into cancer (EPIC-NORFOLK) cross sectional study. British Medical Journal 323:1-5]
5) Schedule: It simply may work better for your schedule to have multiple mini-meals then fewer, larger meals. If you are very active on on the run quite a bit, then eating more frequently, though not as much, may be just the ticket to better nutrition.
6) Insulin Control: Short term studies indicate that eating more frequently is associated with beneficial reductions in the production of insulin, which is released on every eating occasion to shuttle sugars from the bloodstream into muscle tissue, the liver, and fat cells. This may also decrease the potential for developing insulin resistance.
My question here is this: how does this play out with my notes in reason #3, where insulin release is more frequent yet evidently not as strong? (note: In patients with Type 1 diabetes who have to control their blood sugar by carefully balancing food intake with insulin administration, no long term beneficial or detrimental effects on blood sugar control have been observed with an increased meal frequency.)
[Ref: 17. Jenkins DJ (1997) Carbohydrate tolerance and food frequency. British Journal of Nutrition 77 (Suppl 1) S71-81]
Truthfully, I’ve used BOTH mini-meals and 3-meals-a-day with good result, and it all has to do with good choices, good planning, and appropriate calorie load for weight management. Sometimes my schedule has demanded the mini-meals, and other times it has been way too logistically challenging to “minimeal-it” and 3 meals for the day have been FAR more user friendly and a big relief. And at other times, I just go with it and the day decides itself!
Keep in mind that the truth is it is overall calories that matters, bottom line, when it comes to weight management, and the eating avenue that creates the best way for you to work with that, along with your energy, well-being and lifestyle, is the best approach for you. The method that gives you the best control over caloric intake is probably the method that is going to be your most optimal, personally, for fat loss and weight management.
© Lani Muelrath
I hear you! After all, we want not only fitness and energy, but freedom from dietary drudgery. I’m glad to see these articles are offering a measure of assist for you in that quest.
Thanks for your post!
I really appreciate this article. It makes so much sense. I myself have to control my insulin levels due to the fact that I am PCOS and Insulin Resistance. Reading this article made me understand the importance of the mini meals. I have to be honest, I haven’t really tried this method of meal planning, although I have been informed about it. This article however goes into details, about increasing metabolism, younger children eating smaller frequent meals, and of course the insulin control. I’m going to plan smaller frequent meals ASAP. Thank you for sharing this article with us Lani. 🙂
It’s been interesting to read the variety of responses this series of articles has inspired. Some swear by the mini meal approach; others are relieved that they don’t have to adle their brains with frequent meals to avoid metabolism downfall.
PCOS certainly presents its own huge set of challenges; sounds like you know your body!
Incidentally, just want to be sure to clarify that as in the first article, frequent meals has NOT been shown to have metabolic rate benefits over fewer larger meals. So they are not “important” from that standpoint.
Thanks for adding your thoughts!
Hey Lani, I am really appreciating this discussion because I’m so tired of going around and around about the meal timing thing in my head!
It is a big relief to me to know that paying attention to what I include in my diet every day is more important than when I eat it. For this I thank you!