You’re probably doing it.
Eating 6 small meals a day is a pretty common advice that gets tossed around in the world of fitness and nutrition. It’s built on this idea that it’s somehow gonna keep your metabolism high and prevent you from overeating.
The question is, does it work? Or is it all just a myth.
First, let’s quickly travel back in time to find out when and where this myth was actually born. Starting about 40 years ago just after the first American Dietary Guideline was released.
You know, that classic food pyramid where they recommend a whopping 6 servings of bread, cereal, rice, and pasta per day, where we now know is based on very weak science at best.
A short history on eating 6 small meals a day
Back then, there was this enormous push about never missing a meal, ever. Because it’ll somehow cause permanent damage to your metabolism. It was driven largely in part by food companies. You have all these snack companies for example that began to get the bright idea that hey, if you’re trying to sell food, it’s really hard to compete against breakfast, lunch, and dinner because people already know they shouldn’t miss those meals so these snack companies decided that they would start advertising that it’s a good idea to eat in between meals, based on the idea that it increases your metabolism and it prevents you from overeating.
That’s how the idea of snacking was born. It seems like a pretty straight forward idea. Unfortunately, it’s completely flawed and inaccurate.
So what used to be considered bad nutrition advice gradually became the norm, over time. Ask your parents or your grandparents or basically anybody who was born in the 50’s if they ate snacks growing up. And the simple answer is, no. The idea of snacking was never a thing.
The unintended consequences of eating 6 meals a day
Ask your grandma about snacks and she’ll probably say no because you’re gonna ruin your dinner. People ate their three meals a day and that was it and we didn’t have any problems with obesity and diabetes. Did you know that nearly 1 in 10 Americans have diabetes? And approximately 1 in 3 have pre-diabetes. Those are insane numbers.
But because of persistent advertising and brilliant marketing by food companies targeting kids and busy professionals promoting this idea that snacking is really good for you and meals on the go, like protein bars, and granola bars is a good idea, over many decades, this whole idea of eating more frequently really started to get traction. And they say that if you eat all the time then you’re gonna be less hungry, therefore, you’re not gonna eat more and this idea has never really been proven.
In fact, the complete opposite happens.
The more frequently you eat, the more you’ll generally eat
And this isn’t really breaking news to anyone, right? That’s the reason we have appetizers when we eat out. A little bit of food can stimulate the appetite, hence the name appetizer. I know, mind blowing stuff. You start thinking about food even more and once you get in that train of thought, all you wanna do is eat everything in sight.
So, this idea that you can eat a little bit, and then you’ll eat less later is really just completely wrong, like 100% incorrect. It’s the total opposite. If you eat more frequently you’re gonna generally eat more unless you rigidly control your portions.
And that’s never fun for anyone. You usually wanna eat until you’re satiated. Right? In fact, according to one study, there’s zero weight loss advantage in terms of eating 6 small meals versus eating 3 bigger meals of the same amount.
But what gets perpetuated by the media and so called “experts” up to this day? That’s right. You should never skip a meal. You should never skip breakfast, and you should definitely eat 6 meals a day. The more times you eat, the more profitable it is for food companies. I mean, that’s not rocket science, right?
Fast forward to 2019 and the idea of even missing a snack makes people lose their minds. People think that if you miss your breakfast, you’re going to die. And if you go against the grain and you say it’s sort of okay to miss breakfast and lunch, you’re kind of demonized. People start to think that you’re trying to hurt yourself which is just ridiculous on so many levels.
The ridiculous fear of missing a meal
I’m not really sure what people thought was gonna happen if they miss a single meal. You know what I mean? And the short answer of course is, nothing. Think about it. Our doctors tell us to go on some sort of fast and miss a meal all the time. If you’re going for surgery, if you wanna go on some kind of procedure like a dexascan, or if you need to get some blood work done, you have to be fasted for those things. But again, you miss a meal outside of that setting and OH MY GOD the world is gonna end.
Now, let’s actually talk about your body’s physiological response to food to debunk the 6 meals a day myth even more. You see, all foods stimulate the hormone insulin in some way, shape, or form. Insulin, if you’ve never heard of it before is a very important hormone in your body. It’s a nutrient sensor and it’s the hormone that tells people to gain weight. Now you have to remember, your body can only be in two states. It’s either you’re in fat storage mode or you’re in fat burning mode. But you can’t do both at the same time.
The key player that controls all of this is, surprise, surprise, insulin.
Every time you eat, you get an insulin response. Your insulin goes up because of all the nutrients coming in and you tell your body to go into fat storage mode. And when you’re in fat storage mode, you can’t access your own body fat as a source of energy. You just can’t. You eat, you store fat. It’s as simple as that. Therefore, If you eat your 6 small meals a day, you’re in fat storage mode all day.
Remember, the word breakfast itself comes from the term “break fast”. It means that fasting is a part of every day life. You wanna make sure that your fasting and feeding stay in balance if you wanna be lean and healthy. Now, If you wanna know about the science behind intermittent fasting, I’m gonna put a link to one of my videos in the description box.
But here we are in 2018 and even mentioning the word fasting sends shockwaves around the planet. You immediately start hearing people say that there’s all these problems with fasting and so on, and again, without really any real evidence to back it up, as if you’re gonna inflict permanent damage to your body, if you even miss a single meal.
What happens when you miss a meal?
And of course, nothing bad happens when you miss a meal. All that happens when you’re fasting is that you allow your insulin levels to go down. And when your insulin falls, your body gets the signal to start burning some of that stored food energy from your last meal. You start burning stored glycogen and eventually, body fat depending on how long you fast. If you’re trying to lose weight, this is exactly what you want. You wanna start burning body fat for energy.
Instead, we’re constantly told to eat 6 meals a day and snack all the time. We can’t stop thinking about food from the moment we wake up because we’re like, oh I better eat breakfast, oh now it’s time for a snack, then it’s lunch time, then you have another snack, and so on. And then it’s like hey I wonder why I’m not losing weight?? Think about it. It’s kinda hard to lose weight when you’re constantly being told that you need to eat all the time. It’s the worlds greatest oxymoron.
Listen, it’s okay if you miss a meal. Your body can handle it. Your body is super smart and it knows what to do. Will you get hungry? Sure. But that’s usually more out of habit. It was 20 something years for me where I was told that I should eat all the time. It might even be longer for you. Of course it’s gonna feel weird if I skip a meal.
But it’s okay. You can handle it. You’re not gonna die.
As always, if this was helpful, share it with a friend who could benefit from it as well!