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'Grazing' vs. Standard Meals for Weight Loss

Daily calories, not how often you eat, are what matter, study finds

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Kathleen Doheny

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 27, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- For weight loss, some swear by "grazing" -- eating several small meals throughout the day -- instead of eating fewer meals at more traditional mealtimes.

Now, a small study comparing both approaches finds it doesn't matter which tactic you use, as long as you reduce total calories.

Women who ate five meals on one test day and two regular meals on another (consuming the same total calories each day) burned the same amount of calories both days, researchers found.

Despite folklore that grazing somehow revs up your metabolism, it doesn't appear to be the case, said study researcher Dr. Milan Kumar Piya.

"If you eat two meals or five, as long as it's the same number of calories; there is no difference in energy expenditures, so there is no effect on weight loss," said Piya, a clinical lecturer with the U.K. National Institute for Health Research, at University Hospital Coventry and University of Warwick.

He presented the findings Tuesday at a Society for Endocrinology meeting in Liverpool, England.

Those hoping to lose weight can choose the approach they prefer, Piya said. Based on the new findings, he said he would now tell patients trying to lose weight: "You have your own ways of eating and doing things. As long as you eat fewer calories [to lose weight], you will be fine."

He compared the approaches in 24 women, including some who were normal weight and some who were obese. The lean women, on average, were age 34, while the obese women, on average, were 42.

The women were given either two meals or five meals on two separate days, and the researchers measured calories burned, comparing each woman's own individual daily results. Both obese and lean women burned virtually the identical number of calories over a 24-hour period, regardless of which day was analyzed.

Piya also took blood samples twice during each 24-hour period to evaluate signs of inflammation, known as "endotoxins," among other measures. "Obese people have more inflammation to begin with," he noted.

Inflammation, in turn, has been linked in previous studies with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

"At bedtime, when we compared the obese women with the lean women, the obese women had higher endotoxins after the five-meal day," Piya said. That would, he said, theoretically, boost their risk of diabetes and heart disease. "The lean women did not have higher endotoxins when they had five meals compared to two."

The new findings make sense to Michelle Kulovitz Alencar, an assistant professor of kinesiology at California State University, San Bernardino. "In my own research, I have found that it's all about calorie intake," she said, not how the calories are spread out during the day, for weight loss results.

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