Is 5 Small Meals A Day Useless For Weight Loss? - The UltimateFatBurner Blog

Is 5 Small Meals A Day Useless For Weight Loss?

I’ve just finished reading that the “snack diet,” or the splitting up of your food intake into five or six snacks/ small meals to boost your metabolism  and lose weight is “useless.” Dr Tim Crowe, a nutrition specialist at Deakin University in Melbourne, spoke dismissively of the whole idea calling it “rubbish” and a “faddish dieting trend.”  

He also indicated there was some research “that suggests” that “playing around with when you eat may actually cause you to put weight on” (be nice to see exactly what research he is speaking of. Seems like the doctor is using his status to make comments without providing verification. He also knows very well, for instance, that there’s a very big difference between “suggests” and “shows” when it comes to clinical research. To dismiss the 5-6 small meals idea on the basis of inconclusive research doesn’t makes any sense. There definitely appears to be a bias here!)  

The other problem I’ve encountered is that I’ve found nothing but press releases for this story. If this study is published in a peer-reviewed journal for all to see, it’s not listed on PubMed yet.  

Because frankly, it’s like Elissa points out in this post; the devil’s in the details. I can imagine several ways this study could be legitimately conducted to yield the results reported here. One of the simplest ways would be to dramatically restrict calories. If you’re only consuming 800-1,000 calories per day — a level that’s going to send your body into “survival” mode — whether you eat them in 3 meals or 6 snacks is not going to make any difference. This sort of result doesn’t prove anything.

To conduct this study properly you’d need multiple test groups — each consuming various different levels of calories — along with a control group for each. As anyone who lifts weight seriously knows — you can consume a lot of calories over the course of the day — and not get fat. Of course, they need to be the right calories… that goes without saying.  

From the articles I read, it doesn’t appear that the study considered other factors that contribute to any successful weight loss plan; energy levels, productivity, satiety, and so forth. In my opinion, these are almost as important as results, as an unsustainable program is by very definition, an unsuccessful one.

Eating small meals throughout the day keeps blood sugar levels balanced, and energy levels consistent. You never get really hungry, and you never “crash”. This is the main reason I eat this way. If I, for instance, miss a meal between 8 AM and 12 PM, I am ravenous, shaky, tired, and listless. I am also much more likely to stuff my face — with the wrong things — when I eat.

Next comes the inevitable surge in blood sugar which almost always leads to a nap or an hour of doing my best not to drool on the keyboard. Whether eating 5-6 meals a day leads to greater weight loss in my case is anecdotal and immaterial. But I can certainly testify that I feel more alert and productive and I get WAY more done when I keep the “fire” stoked regularly. So…

If participants in the study who ate small meals felt better and were more productive than their counterparts… wouldn’t that be enough to recommend this method of eating over the other — even if the results were the same?

Bottom line?

Until we can review the real “nitty-gritty” of this study, don’t let it scare you away from an eating plan that makes good sense on so many levels.

And certainly don’t change your plan if its working for you. And be sure to review Elissa’s post, “The Devil’s In The Details” 


Author: Paul

Paul Crane is the founder of His passions include supplements, working out, motorcycles, guitars... and of course, his German Shepherd dogs.


  1. University “nutrition specialists” are also elitist types, who are often reflexively dismissive of advice that appears in the popular media. The irony here is that there’s nothing the least bit “scientific” about the current habit of consuming “three squares” either. If science has established an ideal number of meals, I’m not aware of it. For what it’s worth, most of us eating more frequent, smaller meals in conjunction with exercise (esp. strength exercise) are vastly leaner and in better shape than the general population (and that includes most dieticians – lol), so we’re doing something right, methinks.

    Furthermore, those of us actually working in the trenches understand that the more “tools” you have at your disposal for helping people take control of their nutrition, the better. As your example demonstrates, there are practical advantages to eating multiple smaller meals, even if there’s no apparent short term fat loss advantage for the obese.

    The argument Dr. Crowe advances: “Six small days at McDonald’s clearly isn’t going to help you lose weight.” is a straw man. No proponent of multiple small meals has ever made this claim – rather, all have consistently emphasized the importance of “how much they’re eating and of course what they’re eating.” D’Oh, Dr. Crowe! Ludicrous statements like this betray his lack of objectivity, and are out-of-line, especially since there was no apparent harm to the practice, either.

    He’s also evidently not aware that there’s a difference between short term outcomes (such as those measured in this specific study) and long-term ones. For example, the French have long been proponents of 4 smaller meals, and a 2003 review had this to say:

    “The 17th International Congress of Nutrition brought to the forefront the benefits of increasing feeding frequency (i.e. keeping the same total daily energy intake but dividing it into more frequent meals than usual). Recent epidemiological studies, mostly carried out in France, have provided evidence on the beneficial effects of a fourth meal for those individuals who habitually choose this pattern. Supported by metabolic data, these findings have now been supported by experimental studies. The “goûter”, commonly eaten in the afternoon in France by most children and many adults, has the biological characteristics of a meal because it is eaten in response to hunger. Suppressing the “goûter” in “habitual fourth meal eaters” soon leads to an increase in Body Mass Index (BMI). Further, people who are regular “goûter” eaters have a higher carbohydrate intake and better metabolic profile than other adults, even though their total energy intake is not greater. Increased feeding frequency leads to a reduction in the total secretion of insulin, an improvement in insulin resistance and a better blood glucose control, as well as an improvement in the blood lipid profile. The experts agreed that, as long as we do not consume more energy than we use up and we only eat when we are hungry, it may be useful to split our total energy intake into as many meals as our social pattern allows. However, the pattern of eating cannot be completely dissociated from the composition of foods consumed. Therefore within this energy intake, we must take care to consume not only a good balance of macronutrients with high carbohydrate and low fat levels, but also ensure that we get an adequate intake of essential micronutrients. “What you eat” and “When you eat it” are public health messages to communicate: frequent consumption of low energy dense high carbohydrate foods, rich in micronutrients, must be encouraged ensuring that energy intakes are not greater than energy expenditures and that eating episodes occur in a hunger state.”

    In other words, French research has shown that those who are accustomed to eating smaller, more frequent meals have a better overall metabolic profile than those who stick to the usual three. Thus, long term health benefits may exist, beyond short term fat loss.

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  2. I would like to see what he looks like if Mr Crowe actually thinks eating larger portions three times a day is better in comparison to those who eat the same amount of calories over the course of 5 or more meals a day.

    Could we coin his theory “eating crowe”?

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