Does Eating More Frequently Speed Up Your Metabolism?
Eat small meals frequently throughout the day to make sure you keep your metabolism moving as quickly as possible.
Make sure you NEVER go longer than three hours without eating.
Eat negative calorie foods to help lose weight.
You have heard this advice before. Every weight loss show, every fitness magazine, and every article on GOOP espouses it with religious fervour. Deny this scripture at your own peril!
If you want to lose body fat you HAVE, you HAVE to eat regularly or your metabolism will slow to a crawl and you will resemble the Pillsbury doughboy by the end of the week and your scale will explode in protest! Every trainer and every nutritionist out there will spend a good percentage of their time making sure you understand this.
I used to believe this too and for more than a decade I lived by it and coached the same message.
The idea is this: food has a thermic effect, which essentially means that when you eat food your body goes to work to digest it and this added activity increases your metabolic rate.
This is true.
Perusing the literature on the topic is challenging because it is extremely difficult to measure and so has very rarely been studied properly. Most of the data we have is from rodent studies and unfortunately if you are reading this you are not a rat.
A general overview of what is out there appears to lend some support to the idea that the thermic effect of food accounts for between 2% and 20% of your daily calorie consumption. That is a huge fucking range. On a 2000 calorie a day diet that is between 40 and 400 calories.
[Side note: this is all also assuming that calories are easily measured and how our body uses calories is easily measured, which is one million percentage NOT the case…]
Based on this idea eating during the day mean you expend these calories to digest. So the theory goes that if we eat frequently our metabolism will keep humming along digesting all the food and we will burn more calories. Yay! No doughboy in the mirror and the scale will be happy.
[Side note: you don’t weight yourself thought right? Because you have read all of my stuff and know the scale is fucking stupid.]
There is a missing link that is seemingly ignored in this whole equation. In order to get the digestion process humming along you need to eat food. Food has calorie in it. Eating enough to really crank up the metabolic process takes more food. This means more calories.
You cannot eat enough food to decrease your overall calories because the act of eating the food to increase your metabolism means you are ingesting more calories. It is a vicious circle!
What is one to do?
Eat negative calories!!!
That’s right, there are idiots our there who think there are negative calories. The idea here is that some foods are so low in calories that you burn more energy digesting them than they actually contain. This has led people to believe that consuming these foods will help with fat loss and weight management.
The easiest way to answer this is simple: it’s not fucking true. Negative calories don’t exist.
No, eating a lot of celery wont drop off the pounds and rev your metabolism to the roof.
Like, how much celery could you even eat? Even if negative calories was a thing and you just ate celery, there is no way you could eat enough to meet your daily requirements not to mention the fact that you wouldn’t be getting enough carbohydrate, protein, and vitamins and minerals to stay alive.
This is the most preposterous idea in the world of nutrition.
When you are constantly focused on eating all the time in order to ‘speed up your metabolism’ you just end up eating more. Then all of the dieters who want to keep their calories low choose food options that leave them feeling hungry and unsatisfied and the resulting evening food binge becomes the norm. But hey, that yogurt you ate for your 3rd snack after your second meal was ONLY 45 calories – yay you!
And the real truth of the matter is that it is very difficult to affect the number of calories you burn in a day. A plethora of research over the last few years has demonstrated that our metabolisms are essentially genetically fixed. Couch potatoes in rural America burn about the same number of calories as hunter-gatherers in Africa who are active all day. Our metabolisms seem to be pretty fixed.
[Side note: the idea that adding a pound of muscle means you burn 50 calories a day more is NOT true…busting myths left right and centre here….]
What about the idea that going too long between meals slows your metabolism down? This idea to I believed for much of my career. The quick answer is simply that it won’t.
As I just described above, your metabolism is barely affected by food consumption. In many studies on fasting in humans it has been verified time and again that our metabolisms DO NOT slow down when we have long durations during meals.
I don’t know how to describe this any better. The facts are simply that your metabolism does not slow down, in fact it doesn’t change, when you have 8-48 hour gaps between meals. That’s right, 48 hour gaps between meals. Two days. Holy shit.
Anecdotally, with the hundreds of people I have coached through intermittent fasting protocols, I can tell you that adding fasting periods daily results in the following: increased energy, increased mental alertness, decreased body fat, less fixation on food, more enjoyable meals.
What about hormone crashes? You have to eat more frequently to keep your blood sugar up! If you are feeling groggy and slow the best thing to do is eat something! Get some sugars into you for energy.
Actually, no. This also is not true. In fact, there is a growing body of research that fating windows actually improve hormone activity and response in the body. Research with diabetics and fasting is actually showing IMPROVED blood glucose (blood sugar) balance.
What has been found to increase energy levels during those mid-morning and mod-afternoon slumps?
Exercise. Movement. Going for a walk. Doing a workout. Walking some stairs. Physical activity increases energy. Weird eh? Burning energy increase energy? It appears so…
Something else to think about. Have you ever raised kids? Or raised a puppy? Infants and puppies need to gain weight and there is only one strategy to do this. Feed them frequently. Every 2 or 3 hours.
Uh-huh. That’s right. When we want to make them gain weight we feed them as frequently as possible. And their metabolisms are through the fucking roof already as they are growing like crazy!
Yet for some reason as adults, with slower metabolisms, we feel that the same feeding schedule is necessary to maintain or lower our weight. Slightly backwards thinking.
The idea that eating small frequent meals is good for us by keeping our metabolisms moving faster and balancing our hormone levels is completely false. We need to move people towards a style of eating and living that our bodies were designed to follow. Today, this is referred to as intermittent fasting.
I am growing to dislike that term more and more as it is become a catch all fitness phrase attached to weight loss. It isn’t. Our bodies were designed to eat food sporadically and to have long gaps without having to focus on digestion. I have written about this a lot.
You should NOT be eating 3 meals a day plus 3 snacks between meals. It is NOT making you healthier, in fact, it is doing the opposite.