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Metabolic Myth Buster #1: 6 Meals a Day

Our bodies are not campfires.

Seems like a weird first line to read in an article, but it must be said. Because there’s a myth that our metabolisms are exactly like little campfires which need nice, smallish logs plopped into it every hour on the hour or it’ll go out and we’ll all get fat and die.

We’re here to send that myth right back to the camp-firey hell it came from.

Why the ‘6 meals a day’ myth is attractive

First, we have to grant that the myth is attractive. If you could eat all day and lose weight, wouldn’t you want to? Well, it’d be like a weight-loss party!

 No one would ever accuse you of being a trough-noshing pig because your portions were so dainty, yet you could always look down at people who ate more than 50 calories at a time. An attractive combo.

And the metaphor…the metaphor. This campfire analogy is hard to put out because it conjures up memories of zero responsibility and 100% fun when our lives are so often the opposite.

Sign me up for the campfire diet, please!

But the six meal a day idea really is all tinder. Almost every study comparing equal calories over six meals vs fewer meals shows that the former has no benefit, [1] and that the latter can lead to more fat burning and better blood sugar regulation. [2]

Why would this be?

How fewer meals is actually better for weight loss and metabolic health

Putting campfire analogies aside, weight loss and metabolic health come down to insulin – the storage hormone.

When you eat any amount of carbs, your blood sugar rises and insulin is released to shuttle that glucose into the best spots. (Turns out you can go into a coma if your blood sugar gets too high.)

If you’re working out twice a day and looking to gain 30 pounds of brawn, eating six meals a day is a great option. Since you’re depleting muscle glycogen – a special type of sugar – with all that beast moding in the gym, insulin will carry excess sugar into those sexy muscles six times per day to replenish glycogen stores.

But if you’re more of an average bloke who works out a couple time per week, your muscle glycogen reserves will already be topped off for the most part. Eating six meals in this case will result in more glucose spikes, more insulin, and more fat storage.

So insulin and fat burning are in a zero sum game with each other. If you’re eating a bajillion meals a day and storing fat with insulin, you can’t burn fat at the same time. Conversely, eating fewer meals per day reduces insulin and give your body the opportunity to mobilize stored fat for fuel.

Brilliant!

Conclusion

Studies on fasting have shown that metabolism actually increases – yes, increases – in the early stages of fasting. [3] And it kinda makes sense…

If our poor little campfires burned out when we didn’t have any food, then how would humans ever have gotten the next meal when they really needed it?

In consideration of the fact that humans are still alive despite having gone through food scarce times, this myth is BUSTED.

References

1) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19943985/

2) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24838678/

3) https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/71/6/1511/4729485

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