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Last updated February 1, 2017 (originally published May 31, 2016)

By Susan M. Callahan, Associate Editor and Featured Columnist
Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our panel of
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other members
of our Editorial Board.

Imagine that you have two obese men in front of you.  Let's call
them Al and Bill, each tipping the scales at 400 pounds. These two
men are unusual, in that they will eat exactly what you want them
to eat throughout the day. Both Al and Bill want desperately to
lose weight --- fast.  You notice that each of them starts the day
with the same hearty breakfast. Knowing what you know about
human nature, you know already that asking someone to stop
eating as much is simple to say and almost impossible to do, so
you decide on a simple strategy.

You tell Al and Bill that you can almost guarantee that they will
lose weight if they will just spread what they eat at breakfast
over several hours instead of wolfing it all down in one sitting.
You assure them that they don't have to eat less, just spread it
out a little. Easy-peazy.

Bill turns you down. He insists on continuing to eat his breakfast
all at one time. Al takes a deep breath, looks down at his bulging
belly, and says, "what the heck, it's worth a try".

So, you take Al's normal breakfast and divide it into 5 equal
portions. Al usually starts eating at 7AM, so he eats his first "mini-
breakfast" at 7 AM. Then, at 8AM, he gobbles down the next
mini-breakfast, another at 9AM, yet another at 10Am and a final
one at 11AM.

Along comes lunch. Both men decide to order the same plates.
But then something weird happens. Al notices that he's not as
hungry as he thought. He eats what he can but he find that he
has to leave some on the plate. Bill, who ate his whole breakfast
in one sitting, doesn't have this problem. He's as hungry as ever.
He wolfs down his entire lunch.

As a result, Bill ends up eating about 30% more calories than Al.

And this is exactly what scientists have discovered happens in real
life. In 1999, scientists from the University of Witwatersrand
Medical School, in Johannesburg, South Africa
discovered that
spreading your breakfast over several hours makes you burn
more calories

They took 7 obese men with an average age of 37 years. None of
the men was diabetic and none was a smoker. These men were
used to eating about 3000 calories a day.

On some days, the men were given their usual breakfasts all at
one time. These were heavy meals having almost 1000 calories
(979 calories, 4100kJ).   On other days, the scientists took the
same heavy breakfasts and just divided them up into 5 parts and
fed the mini-meals every hour for the next 5 hours.

When time arrived for the next regular meal, the men ate 27%
less on those days when they had the 5 mini-meals beforehand.
The men who has eaten the whole breakfast all at once ate 1261
calories on average at lunch, while the men who had divided up
their breakfast into 5 parts ate 899 calories at lunch.

Dividing Up Your Breakfast Can Turbo-charge Your Weight Loss

Let's take a step back and see what this 27% difference would
mean to your weight.  If you eat 3000 calories a day, and you
start eating 27% less at one of those meals, that's 270 calories
less each day.

That's 8100 calories less each month, which adds up to a weight
loss of 2.3 pounds a month or 27.7 pounds per year.

You lose 28 pounds year and you don't have to cut a single
calories from your diet.

Eating A Series of Small Breakfasts Lowers Your Blood Sugar Too

The men who ate their breakfast in one sitting experienced a peak
in blood sugar of 177 micro units per m-1.  This compared to a
blood sugar levels of 133.7 in the men who ate the 5
mini-breakfasts. Thus, the 5 mini-breakfasts reduced peak blood
sugar levels by 25%. (Read more about
normal fasting blood
sugar levels.)

The Big Danger to Avoid

There is a downside to using a mini-meal strategy on your own
outside of a laboratory.  In a lab, scientists can carefully control
how much food is eaten at the single breakfast or at each of the
mini-meals. At home, you would have to carefully measure your
mini-meals top make sure that you don't accidentally increase the
amount you're eating at each mini-meal.  Even if you're off by say
25 to 30 calories for your 5 mini-breakfasts, you could almost
negate the calories you will not eat at lunch.

This imprecise measuring of what is actually eaten is the reason
that some studies have reported that eating meals more
frequently doesn't affect your weight at all. Of course it won't, if
you're eaten too much at each mini-meal.  

One such study that found mixed results or no  effect in eating
mini-meals was conducted in 2015 by scientists from the
University of Tennessee at Knoxville.  This was a "study of
studies" in which the scientists list at all the existing studies on
eating mini-meals, sometimes called "grazing". They found 25
studies, some involving humans, some involving animals. The
frequency of the meals eaten varied from 1 to 12 times a day.

Here, the scientists found that only 5 out of the 13 studies on the
amount of food consumed reported that eating more frequently
resulted in eating less overall during the day.

What's going on? The scientists from Tennessee speculated that
the studies which did not show weight loss involved cases in
which the study participants were "under- reporting how much
they ate. On the other hand, the studies which were better
controlled tended to show weight loss.


More and more, scientists are learning that when you eat is
almost as important as what you eat.  In January 0f 2017, The
American Heart Association announced that Americans should pay
attention to when they eat. They theorized that we Americans
pretty much eat around the clock, and that this constant
consumption may be upsetting our normal circadian rhythms and
making us gain weight over time.  

The number of men who eat 3 meals a day has declined from
73% in the 1970's to 59% in 2010. The number of women who
eat 3 meals a day over the same period has declined from 75% to
63% in 2016.

The recommendation is to try to eat 3 regular meals at the same
time each day.]

The morale of the story is: if you want this mini-meal approach to
work, you have to make sure the total amount you're eating
doesn't creep up little by little.  You have to avoid diet creep.

Foods That Help to Shrink Your Waist
Waist Size-Why It Matters
Ideal Weight for Women
Overeating -Causes and Tips That Help You Stop

Do Blueberries Help to Reduce Belly Fat?
Losing Your Belly Fat After the Baby
Cortisol-Does It Really Make You Fat?
Normal Fasting Blood Sugar
Foods That Keep Your Blood Sugar Steady

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