The Reva Clinic News

13 Jan 2014 Date Holder

6-meals-a-day…is it a good idea?

6 small meals?

6-meal-a-day diet ‘experts’ suggest that eating small frequent meals throughout the day boosts your metabolism, regulates blood sugar, and helps to keep cravings at bay.  It’s an interesting one that has only been really touted over the last couple of decades, so let’s look at this in a bit more detail. 

Aside from the fact that many studies find no weight loss benefits to eating six meals as compared to three meals a day, eating in this way is entirely against our evolutionary biology.  We are not grazers and we have never in the history of our species relied on eating every 2/3 hours to balance our blood sugar, give us sustained energy, and control our hunger!  We evolved to fast and to feast and our bodies have an amazing capacity to go for extended periods of time without food.

We have never relied on continued food intake to give us energy.  This is because we have a very handy mechanism in the body that allows us to use fat as an energy source during fasted periods, as oppose to glucose (sugar), which we get from the carbohydrates in our food.  This is a very efficient way of releasing stored energy and when we can use it, gives us sustained energy, free from cravings, brain fog and fatigue.  Sounds good!

The key sentence here though is, ‘when we can use it’, because many of us have lost the capacity to burn fat as fuel.  Why?  Because we eat all the time!

Food intake gives us glucose (or sugar) that we can use as fuel.  If we are constantly putting more food fuel into the body, the body will happily use it.  After all – why would we use our fat stores?  We know this is used during fasted periods, or to bring it back to evolution as a back-up fuel source to protect us against starvation.  So the body will happily use the food we’re putting in and leave our fat stores untouched.  Or if we’re really eating a lot, then the body will top our fat stores up!  This is why it makes no sense to continually fill ourselves with small frequent meals, however healthy these may be.  In fact, the particular enzyme that breaks down our fat stores so that they can be used by the body as energy will never be activated when eating continuously.

Now I can hear the shouts of those of you who say you have to eat every few hours, otherwise you get cranky, tired, dizzy, the shakes etc.  Six meals is a necessity right?  Well it may help in the short term but really it’s just a vicious spiral.  Let me explain.

Problems regulating blood sugar with peaks and troughs throughout the day only really happen when we are unable to use our fat stores as a fuel source.  Insulin is the clever hormone that comes along and picks up the glucose/sugar from our food and takes it along to our body cells and organs so that it can be used as energy.  Insulin directly blocks the enzyme we use to break down fat so that we can use it for energy – think evolution again, why do we want to break down fat at the same time as using the food we’re putting in?  We don’t, so the fat stays and the food gets used up.

Right, so now when we eat continuously we are sending continual messages to our pancreas to release insulin and completely stopping our ability to burn fat.  As soon as insulin has done its job – pushing the glucose/sugar from our food and shunting it into our cells, our blood sugar drops.  We can’t access our fat stores.  And we end up with a blood sugar issue - we crave, we feel immense hunger, and we grab the nearest food source to give us the energy that we cannot release ourselves. And that’s called a vicious spiral!

Evolution has spent a long time honing the design of our body and it’s done a pretty good job.  However, we ignore the lessons evolution teaches us about our physiology at our peril.  We see the advent of modern disease: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, the list goes on.  If we can just live a little more the way we were designed, then many of today’s modern diseases would be resolvable.

Top tip:

Get your body into fat burning mode by starting to increase the amount of time between meals.  Ideally you should aim for at least 5hours between meals, with a maximum number of three meals a day.  Exercising in a fasted state (ideally the morning) will also help with this.  This way of eating will rev up your metabolism and switch on those fat-burning enzymes!