I love the magazines in the rack as you check out of the grocery store. You know the ones. They’ll say something flashy like “The ONE food to jump-start your metabolism!” or, and I kid you not, “Burgers that work like gastric bypass”…. See proof below!
I’m sure you’ve seen them. Hell, you may have even purchased a few of them looking for that holy grail of fat loss. That one weird trick that’ll make it to your stomach gets flat without every having to do a single bit of meal prep or exercise.
Well, I’m here to tell you no such thing exists. And I wanted to focus on the one topic that I see crop up all the time, in both writings and conversation.
It’s the idea that there are special ways to rev up your metabolism for fat burning.
You’ve likely been told to eat 6-8 small meals every day to keep your metabolism kickin’, or to never skip breakfast because skipping breakfast keeps your body in fat storage mode since it’s most ready, willing, and able to burn fat in the early morning hours.
First, you must know that the only way for fat loss to occur is through a net caloric deficit. The calories you consume must be under the energy you burn throughout the course of a day, a week and so on.
Second, one problem right off the bat with eating 6-8 small meals a day is that for the average person, they have no idea how much they’re actually eating at a given sitting. In fact, even if they tried to gauge how much they’re consuming, research shows that we’re pretty terrible at guessing that. So if you’re eating 8 small meals a day and those small meals are on the calorically dense side, you can absolutely put yourself in fat STORAGE mode instead simply by consuming more calories than you should be.
Next, does eating more frequently really rev up your metabolism anyway?
Research suggests that it does not.
One study showed that lower frequency meals (3 meals) compared to higher frequency meals (14 meals) better glycemic control and improvements. They concluded that resting metabolic rate and appetite control increased in the lower frequency group, “which can be relevant for body weight control on the long term”.
In fact, some research supports periods of fasting, if that’s what you’re into. One study which measured different parameters of participants at 12, 36, and 72 hours of acute starvation found a slight increase in resting metabolic rate around the 36 hour mark.
Further, a meta-analysis by was conducted to determine if meal frequency had any effects on weight loss and body composition. The researchers took 15 studies that investigated meal frequency and weight and/or body composition changes and found no significance as to whether more frequent meals had beneficial effects on body composition.
So the stoking of the metabolic fire theory can be chucked out of the window along with no carbs in the evening, calories don’t count, fruit is bad for you, and the list goes on and on.
The moral of the story is to eat as many meals as you damn well please. Some people actually like 6-8 smaller meals a day and some like to eat only one or two very large meals. Some people like gigantic breakfasts with little food at night, and others like to go to bed with a very full tummy by choosing to eat later in the evening.
Whichever eating pattern you choose, you just have to make sure these two things are happening if fat loss is the goal: 1) you’re in a caloric deficit and 2) it fits your lifestyle.
Without the first you won’t be able to achieve fat loss and without the second your fat loss journey won’t be nearly as smooth. Trying to stick to the eating schedule of your personal trainer or favorite celebrity when it doesn’t work with your lifestyle is a sure fire way to fall off task.
And if you want to know how to really increase your resting metabolic rate, you can do so by exercising more, lifting weights and building muscle, which require more energy to repair and rebuild. Toss in some cardio and some cryotherapy for good measure 😉
Kidding about the cryotherapy… though there might actually be something that to that!