As we continue to highlight the importance of Word Obesity Awareness Week, we decided to explore the research on how meal size and frequency can help contribute to weight loss. You may have heard that eating little and often can help you maintain a healthy weight, and this has been proven to be true to some extent. However, there is some contradicting research in this area.  Here at Love Your Gut we have pointed out some of the key findings from this research to form some practical advice on how you can use meal size and frequency to help control your weight.

The Thermic Effect of Food.

A large amount of research has established the relationship between meal size and frequency and weight loss by measuring the thermic effect of food (TEF). The thermic effect of food also known as ‘diet induced thermogenesis’ is the rate at which your body burns calories after it consumes food. Due to the thermic effect of food, when you eat, your body also burns calories. This is because energy is needed to digest, absorb and store nutrients in the food that you have eaten.  Therefore, if the thermic effect of food is increased, it may play a role in increasing weight loss through burning extra calories. But what has the research revealed?

The Research.

Some early studies have compared the TEF after eating the same amount of calories either in one large meal or several smaller more frequent meals throughout the day. The TEF was found to be much higher when the smaller more frequent meals were consumed- leading to the conclusion that smaller frequent meals may help one to lose weight (LeBlanc et al, 1993).

However, more recent studies have published dissimilar findings. These studies have compared the effects of eating meals regularly (i.e. set times throughout the day) verses irregular eating. Fewer calories were found to be burnt when eating several meals irregularly throughout the day (Farshchi et al, 2004). A more recent study, published last year involved 24 lean and obese women who were given the same amount of calories in either 2 or 5 high fat meals on two separate days (Piya et al, 2014). The study found that the frequency of the meals did not affect the amount of calories burnt over a 24 hour period. However, the study did find that that for those individuals consuming 5 meals per day there were higher amount of endotoxins (toxic substances) circulating in their blood which would put them at higher risk of developing metabolic diseases such type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

So should you focus your efforts on eating little and often?

Although there is some early evidence to suggest that eating smaller, more frequent meals could help one to lose weight, many recent studies have struggled to find a relationship between meal frequency and the amount of calories burnt by the body. Focus should therefore be placed on what foods are actually being eaten and the number of calories consumed throughout the day.  Look out for our blog posts over the next few days which will follow up on this!


Farshchi, H. R., Taylor, M. A., & Macdonald, I. A. (2004). Decreased thermic effect of food after an irregular compared with a regular meal pattern in healthy lean women. International journal of obesity28(5), pp653-660.

LeBlanc, J., Mercier, I., & Nadeau, A. (1993). Components of postprandial thermogenesis in relation to meal frequency in humans. Canadian journal of physiology and pharmacology71(12), pp879-883.

Piya, M., Reddy, N., Campbell, A., Hattersley, J., Halder, L., Tripathi, G., Tahrani, A. Barber, T. Kumar. S & McTernan, P. (2014). Meal size and frequency influences metabolic endotoxaemia and inflammatory risk but has no effect on diet induced thermogenesis in either lean or obese subjects. Endocrine Abstracts, 34, p226.