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Two big meals may be better than six small ones
May 15th, 2014
06:01 PM ET

Two big meals may be better than six small ones

Editor's note: This blog was originally published in June 2013 when the research was presented at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions in Chicago. The final study results were published Thursday in the journal Diabetologia.

You've probably heard that eating multiple small meals throughout the day is a good way to stave off hunger and keep your metabolism revved up while trying to lose weight. But a new study could change your diet strategy.

Eating two large meals early and skipping dinner may lead to more weight loss than eating six smaller meals throughout the day, the study suggests.

"Both experimental and human studies strongly support the positive effects of intermittent fasting," lead study author Dr. Hana Kahleova told CNN in an e-mail.

The study

Researchers from the Czech Republic followed 54 patients with Type 2 diabetes for 24 weeks. The study participants were split into two groups at random. Both groups followed a diet that reduced their energy intake by 500 calories per day and contained 50 to 55% carbohydrates, 20 to 25% protein and less than 30% fat.

For the first 12 weeks, one group ate three main meals - breakfast, lunch and dinner - and three small snacks in between meals. The other group ate a large breakfast between 6 and 10 a.m. and a large lunch between noon and 4 p.m. The two groups then switched for the second 12 weeks.

Researchers asked the patients not to alter their exercise habits during the study.

The results

Although both groups lost weight and decreased the amount of fat in their livers, the group that was eating only two larger meals lost more during each 12-week session. Eating fewer, bigger meals also led to lower fasting blood sugar levels, meaning that the body's insulin production was working more efficiently.

The timing and frequency of the groups' meals did not seem to have an effect on the function of beta cells that produce insulin or on the glucose metabolic clearance rate - i.e. how fast their bodies were able to process and get rid of sugar.

Our expert's take

"This is interesting," says CNN diet and fitness expert Melina Jampolis. "But the first thing I think of is that it's not really liveable, telling people to skip dinner every day."

Jampolis is also concerned that the two groups did not end up eating the same total number of calories. "Eating six times a day, it's very hard to control calories." The researchers admit that while they did their best to ensure both groups consumed the same amount, the group that ate two larger meals may have eaten less.

While the study was small, Jampolis agrees that there's research to support eating a lighter meal later in the day.

Most of us consume the majority of our day's calories late at night when we're the least active, she says. And when we're not active, our insulin sensitivity drops. A recent study showed that walking for just 15 minutes after dinner can help lower your risk for diabetes. Fasting between lunch and breakfast may have a similar effect, she says.

The takeaway

Don't skip dinner altogether. Focus instead on eating a hearty breakfast and lunch, and keep your last meal of the day low in calories.

Meal times may affect weight loss success


soundoff (239 Responses)
  1. Slow down

    Boy oh boy...nothing brings out the self-righteousness in folks as quickly as telling other people what to eat.

    May 17, 2014 at 10:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Devery

      I think as medical people they are just providing you with information that can help you live healthier. That's kind of their job

      May 17, 2014 at 15:32 | Report abuse |
    • Dev

      I was talking about the comments, dude.

      May 17, 2014 at 15:49 | Report abuse |
    • Nana

      Back and forth! These medical people need to stop contradicting each other. A nation of sheep is right.

      May 18, 2014 at 17:45 | Report abuse |
    • Eeyore

      Why? If new research yields new conclusions, do you want them to be suppressed simply because they don't jibe with the old ideas?

      Then you should not read any scientific studies; you should just rely on the Bible.

      May 18, 2014 at 22:52 | Report abuse |
    • Sarah

      Nothing worse than a Vegan Baptist Tea Party member.

      May 19, 2014 at 22:54 | Report abuse |
  2. TJ

    The only people interested in these studies are people that have bad eating habits.

    May 17, 2014 at 10:29 | Report abuse | Reply
    • MplsMike

      So the only people interested in these studies are the people with bad eating habits? That's at least sixty percent of this country, so there should be a lot of interest. No one told you to read the article.

      May 18, 2014 at 08:41 | Report abuse |
  3. urnotathinkerareu

    There is always some goofy study out there to counteract "what was previously thought". Why bother with ANY freaking study in the first place if it's all "not as previously thought". Topic after topic after topic.

    May 17, 2014 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • nightwriter

      There is a lot of widely-accepted advice on healthy eating, and those who follow it are generally healthier. Not all studies contradict each other – you're probably just using that concept as an excuse to eat whatever you want ... not such great thinking there, "UR".

      May 17, 2014 at 22:40 | Report abuse |
    • tom LI

      Do you really believe that knowledge is not going to grow and expand as we get better and better at studying these things? As we're more able to delve deeper into the body, set up better studies, etc, etc...the past stuff slowly recedes underneath the newer and more relevant knowledge.

      IMO, there are just a core group of humans who simply can not deal with the human push and quest for more and more knowledge. It overwhelms them, fries their circuits. So they outright denigrate it.

      Living in the past, where wives tales, and folklore ruled our health and our eating habits rarely works. I can think of only one old saw that still works today, but that Americans most especially reject out of hand – "most things in moderation, and only somethings once in awhile." But not Americans who seek to stuff more and more into their gaping maws, while also doing the same by shoving more and more useless products into their homes.

      More and more! The American Consumer mentality.

      May 18, 2014 at 08:37 | Report abuse |
    • Will

      This is specifically about weight loss. If you aren't trying to lose way, more frequent small meals may be better, it depends on your activity probably, and it may depend on individual genes. The problem is that health is very complex. It is wise to try different things and see what works for you. As far as intermittent fasting, religions have advocated this for centuries, probably with good reason.

      May 18, 2014 at 16:48 | Report abuse |
    • UFC iTard

      That's kind of how science works, new experiments and studies reveal new information that may contradict existing schools of thought.
      Would you rather we were all still living in caves, having no idea if the sun will rise again after it sets, and only being able to harness the power of fire after a lightning strike sets a tree ablaze?

      May 19, 2014 at 17:47 | Report abuse |
  4. jsets

    Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry. STOP when you first feel satisfied (NOT stuffed full). Drink when you are thirsty. There. I have given you the perfect diet.

    May 17, 2014 at 11:35 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Gus M

      The problem with your suggestion is that insulin is a hormone which stimulates hunger therefore diabetics don't have the same stimulus/response as others. Also, fasting for insulin dependent diabetics is dangerous especially at bedtime because blood glucose levels can drop too low while sleeping and they could have a serious health crisis or even die. This article is irresponsible because it is using a study for Type II diabetics as a method for weight loss.

      May 17, 2014 at 13:33 | Report abuse |
    • radar8

      jsets
      Listen to your body. Eat when you are hungry. STOP when you first feel satisfied (NOT stuffed full). Drink when you are thirsty. There. I have given you the perfect diet.

      Far from the perfect diet. Your recommendations are terrible:

      Eat when you are hungry: The body's "hunger signal" is very inaccurate and can vary greatly from person to person. Using your advice, many people would starve and many people would be fat. Many of the people that are fat... are that way BECAUSE they listen to their body's signals an deat when they are hungry.

      Drink when you are thirsty: If you are exercising and don't drink water until you are thirsty, you may get severely dehydrated.

      May 17, 2014 at 14:14 | Report abuse |
    • floyd schrodinger

      In addition to your excellent advice, eat less – move more – loose weight.

      May 17, 2014 at 17:28 | Report abuse |
  5. elle

    I have known many people that stop eating altogether after 6:00 PM and they lose weight. I think there is some validity to this story.

    May 17, 2014 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • corinthian leather

      @ Elle...indeed that works. Basically you're not eating for over 12 hours and generally inactive.

      May 17, 2014 at 12:32 | Report abuse |
    • only if...

      There are some things that work well, assuming your system is in general functioning well. The minute you have an impaired system, all bets are off. Many diabetics who fast in the evening after six get outrageous blood sugar spikes by morning.

      May 17, 2014 at 13:39 | Report abuse |
    • tom LI

      Yes, the trouble with many peoples dinner meal is they are way too big, and they tend to linger longer...as once the eating has begun for many people they have a hard time turning it off. And if they worked out prior to dinner, like after work for example, they are going to cheat by rewarding themselves with too much, and/or treats.

      May 18, 2014 at 08:29 | Report abuse |
  6. mikehill1

    There's one thing this article is missing, specifically "for patients with type 2 diabetes"... it's in the final report this article is linked to so don't go thinking this is for everyone.

    May 17, 2014 at 13:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. McPiro

    I wonder how many fools will see this article and instantly change their eating habits LOL

    May 17, 2014 at 13:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Gus M

    This article is a study concerning Type II diabetics masquerading as weight loss suggestions....IMO, this is irresponsible. What works for healthy people may be dangerous for a diabetic especially insulin dependent diabetics. Fasting, especially at bedtime, can lead to low blood glucose and can cause a serious health crisis and even death. Insulin is a hormone which stimulates hunger so diabetics don't have the same stimulus/response as other healthy people.

    May 17, 2014 at 13:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. carlalundgren.wordpress.com

    Reblogged this on Daydream for Change.

    May 17, 2014 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. mjg

    I would tend to agree with this study. If you're looking to loose weight (not dieting for any other medical purpose) then the simple formula is:
    caloric intake < caloric output = weight loss

    Although instead of 2 big meals i would just say have 3 average meals.
    I'm not a dieter, but I do watch how much I eat. And when I followed the simple formula I lost 20lbs in no time.

    May 17, 2014 at 14:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Melanie

    Is overweight considered attributable to a common cause like overeating, perhaps adding heavier meals in the evening, or is
    a dreaded disease on the uptake?

    May 17, 2014 at 14:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. marine5484

    I'm calling BS on that one. One, your study group is to small to have enough reliable data. Two, this ONLY includes people with type 2 diabetes. Three, there is no mention of a control group, so was their one? Four, when you eat six times a day you don't have three large meals then snacks. You have six small meals...that's it. And lastly you mentioned exercise should not be altered. but,what were the exercise regiments? This is either a poorly conducted study. Or a poorly written article....I suspect both.

    May 17, 2014 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. Buddha

    There is an old saw that goes Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper . This seems to confirm that.

    May 17, 2014 at 14:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. richard c. bozian M.D. F.A.C.P.

    This is for the birds. There are more than ample studies over the decades that eating multiple smaller meals daily and over the lifetime, not just twelve weeks, is associated with lower incidence of chronic degenerative processes such as obesity, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. For one, there is less stressed overproduction of insulin with the large carbohydrate load that has to be dealt with after the meal.
    .

    This is typical of misguided short term studies that lead to misguided results.

    May 17, 2014 at 15:23 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mr McSmartyPants MD PhD FU LOL

      Or you could, you know get your carbohydrates from healthy sources such as vegetables and low glycemic fruits and completely avoid the absurd insulin spikes that occur after a meal containing grains and refined sugars.

      This "graze all day and don't let yourself go hungry" foolishness hasn't been adequately tested among diabetics and others with an impaired system.

      May 17, 2014 at 15:55 | Report abuse |
  15. mom

    Well, we eat 6 small. Eat all day long kind of thing. No real meals, I guess.
    2 big would be insane. Only when school is in session is there meal time, since the schedule is built in, and I like that.

    May 17, 2014 at 18:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. SGS

    I noticed the article says weight loss. It doesn't say fat loss. Big difference. I have a background in nutritional science and have worked with hundreds of clients over the last 20 years. You cannot meet your daily caloric needs within two meals. For example, if the average male needs app 2200-2400 calories a day, that's 1200 calories a meal and at 55% carbohydrates, that's 165 grams at one meal, a surefire way to spike your insulin levels inhibiting fat loss. If the meals are far less than that,then you would definitely be on the typical ultra low calorie starvation type diet which has been shown that more than 50% of the weight lost is lean mass (muscle). The less lean mass, the less calories the body burns resulting in just being a skinny fat person. The name of the game isn't weight loss, but instead lowering your body fat percentage. This study is misleading.

    May 17, 2014 at 20:40 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Highlyqualified

      I respectfully disagree. As stated elsewhere, since I stopped eating dinner regularly, I have lost 11 kilograms (over 24 pounds). Most of that is definitely body fat. I am much leaner, my abs are showing again, and that is without exercise. The bit of fat under my throat has disappeared. I might have lost some muscle mass, and when I begin exercising again in earnest I will need to adjust things – but for now this is working beautifully.

      May 18, 2014 at 07:23 | Report abuse |
  17. Dolarbil

    Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper....this rule is based on the fact that the first meal is after fasting for 8 or more hours so your body needs a boost to get your day off right. Lunch is replenish levels after burning some of breakfast while you still have activities going on. Dinner is the last meal and the least active time. Type 2 diabetics who follow this along with their meds and exercise will get to and maintain the correct bmi.

    May 17, 2014 at 20:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. RN

    CNN, This is a small study with 54 participants over 24 months, something we would call a pilot study. Please don't run with it. The study needs to be substantiated by other results before it is ready for mass consumption on a news outlet. Please hire someone knowledgeable with medical research before you embarrass yourself and make a fool of your readers.

    AAAGGHHHH, Seriously, hire me! It hurts my head when I read these "reports" on .research.

    May 17, 2014 at 23:04 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cheapster

      Ok I did a study in college and 1 big meal is ok too and continued this study after college until I got arrested for following people

      May 18, 2014 at 09:54 | Report abuse |
    • cheapster

      Knowledgeable with medical research LOL good one

      May 18, 2014 at 09:56 | Report abuse |
  19. matt7988

    Wow who would have ever guessed that eating less would result in weight loss! Astounding!

    The real question is, how many Americans can go 8-10 hours without even a snack. I'd say less than 5% to be honest.

    -an American

    May 17, 2014 at 23:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cheapster

      "we followed x # of starving refuges and found a sustanduail # have weight loss

      May 18, 2014 at 09:59 | Report abuse |
  20. ArchieDeBunker

    On a short-term basis, the 2-meals-per-day program might be more effective, but, since most people are not really very good at denying themselves food when they're hungry, I think most people would give up sooner on the 2-meals-per-day regimen than they would on the 6-small-meals. Also, I think the 2-meals-per-day diet would only be successful if the dieter controlled the portions they ate, and while that might happen in a controlled setting, I don't think it's likely that people who were very hungry (because they were only getting two meals per day) would successfully control their portions. Of course the same is true for the 6-small-meals-per-day people, but over the long run I'm guessing they would fare better than the 2-meals-per-day folks.

    May 18, 2014 at 00:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Highlyqualified

    I stopped eating dinner (i.e. anything substantial after 6pm) suddenly about 3 months ago, since my Chinese housemate doesn't eat much after 6pm either. I have lost 11 kilograms (a little over 24 pounds). That is without exercise, and I eat very well during the day (though not a lot of junk). Eating at night, when you will be inactive and sleeping for most of it, is an invitation to weight gain. If I am super hungry at night, I will eat some fruit, or have a glass of milk. The best thing is that, occasionally, I can go nuts and have a hearty dinner if the occasion calls for it – but I tend to eat a lot less than I used to in general.

    May 18, 2014 at 07:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      I'm not so sure about calories meaning more at night time in terms of weight gain. We probably burn about the same number of calories in the evening whether we are asleep or not, unless we work out at night, of course. I think you may have lost weight because you reduced your caloric intake altogether. Maybe the link between eating at night and gaining more weight is really due to people just consuming more calories in the day overall than those who make food off-limits after a certain hour in the day. Either way, congrats.

      May 18, 2014 at 09:10 | Report abuse |
  22. Farzana

    thats what we Muslims do while fasting, having two big mails, evening and late night.

    May 18, 2014 at 07:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Richard Graham

    Just wait for about six months and the next "study" will say twelve small meals daily are better than two big ones.

    May 18, 2014 at 08:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Jennifer

    I have found on many occasions that by the time I get to dinner time, I'm not hungry and have skipped it altogether, thinking I was doing something harmful for myself. Maybe I wasn't.

    May 18, 2014 at 09:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. 1776usa2016

    I don't eat after 7:00 PM and this has helped quite a lot toward managing my weight.

    It took a couple weeks to adjust to this in the beginning but now I have no hunger at all after dinner.

    .

    May 18, 2014 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Jan

    I enjoyed this article because I happen to find 2 large meals at about 10am & 4pm are what keeps me at my best, in spite of being admonished that I should eat more frequent, smaller meals. Nevertheless, the best way to eat for one person may be the worst for another. Studies can indicate what practices TEND to work for most people's well-being, but we're a diverse lot, we humans.

    May 18, 2014 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Haha

    Da mn it. I thought it was the opposite. Good thing I never got into the habit of having mynsixnmeals a day.

    May 18, 2014 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. barb'sbarb

    We are awash in plenty of healthy choices but choose the fast foods instead and eat too much and move too little.

    May 18, 2014 at 19:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. RumzD

    In a few months a new study will show that 4 medium-sized meals trumps all others...

    May 18, 2014 at 19:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. barbaraphinney

    Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper. That's what I was taught.

    May 18, 2014 at 20:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Spectronizer

    I'm not anti-Science, but boy is it frustrating to see every study contradict the other. How am I supposed to use any of this information if 5 years later it's wrong?

    May 18, 2014 at 21:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. worldcares

    One meal better than nothing.

    May 19, 2014 at 03:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. lukas151132

    The study was made with diabetic patients. No test was made with non-diabetic patients, or other patients, or non-patients. Therefore, the findings may only be true for diabetic patients.

    May 19, 2014 at 06:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. TLORop

    It doesn't matter when you eat so much as what and how much you eat. This study was so flawed the only thing you can learn from it is that people loose weight when they eat fewer calories than their base metabolic rate. And we already knew that.

    May 19, 2014 at 11:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Tony

    The problem with the advice of 6 small meals throughout the day is that people don't know what a small meal is. Portion sizes have gotten out of control and when a portion size is around 600 calories, that's 3600 calories a day.

    It's better to have two 1000-1100 calorie meals a day that actually get you full.

    May 19, 2014 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. hardupooju

    And people are here for actual medical news, and I'm just here because I have to write a current events in Health class.

    May 19, 2014 at 13:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Ben

    Lots of people skip breakfast. On the weekends I like to sleep in until lunch time. Lunch is easy to skip. When things are busy at work sometimes I would rather just keep working through lunch than take an hour off and spend the rest of the day trying to catch up. But skipping dinner is not worth it. nobody likes going to bed hungry. I wonder if this system would work if your 2 meals were breakfast and diner.

    May 19, 2014 at 14:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Just asking

    How many of you who" read" the article read this:

    Fasting between lunch and breakfast may have a similar effect, she says.

    Those two meals wouild really have to be filling!

    May 19, 2014 at 18:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. RettasVegas

    A light lunch, and a large dinner, has always worked for me, I'm healthy, 62, and take no meds. eat mostly what I want good & bad foods, but did cut back on red meat about 30 yrs. ago, don't miss it much.
    I never drank, took bad drugs, or smoked, and have never been more than 10-30 pds. over my desired weight, in my lifetime.
    Good DNA is 1/2 & living well is the other 1/2, that's my take on good heatlh.

    May 19, 2014 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Padma

    I will go with 2 times a day . Give the chewing machine some rest.

    May 19, 2014 at 19:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. LCC

    Intermittent fasting is a great way to accomplish this – skipping several meals or an entire day. You catch up the following day, however by eating all of the calories you skipped out on – NOT reducing calories. This allows your bodies days where it can focus on repairing your body and not constantly digestion.

    May 20, 2014 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. jonathanlk

    Why skip dinner? My two big meals daily are breakfast and dinner. If I have lunch, it is a vitamin drink or an apple. If i eat in the middle of the day, it knocks me out.

    May 22, 2014 at 11:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Artemis MA

    Who in the workforce has time in a day for six meals, small or otherwise?

    What's the skinny (ahem) on the standard three meal a day approach?

    May 23, 2014 at 16:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. Cash for Test Strips

    The best way to loose is to eat less and exercise more

    http://www.sellmydiabeticteststrips.com

    May 24, 2014 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. Enough

    I say we should return back to the information given in the biblical days, "all things in moderation." And what's wrong with the "three squares a day" advice? When we all ate like that in the fifties and sixties, there were less people with overweight issues and serious diseases.

    June 8, 2014 at 15:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Annlindemann

    As a menopausal woman who grabbles with weight issues, I read this article with great interest. To be truthful I scour online health and news outlets for info that can help me crack the code on this creeping weight gain. I came across this article that offers scientific support for many of this author's theories.http://www.juvenon.com/fasting-starvation-and-caloric-restriction/?utm_source=newcampaign

    June 24, 2014 at 16:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. Ashley Marley

    Good diet and exercise you will be looking your best in no time for more information visit http://shedpounds.com/articles/2013-10-23/throw-in-the-towel

    June 27, 2014 at 11:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. TIG 365

    I thought grazing was for cows and big meals were a no no?

    http://bit.ly/1CWdlg7

    September 11, 2014 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Jane Doe

    “Jacque Wilson posted an article about eating two meals may be better than six small ones”. But this is nonsense. These scientists are making it seem like this two meal deal is a positive for you which it is not. First of all, eating smaller meals speeds up your metabolism and helps you keep control of your blood sugar levels. Second of all you should have never told them to stay at the same exercise pace, because some individuals could already work out more than others do. It would have been better just to tell them not to exercise at all. I think that would have got better results. The reason is because somebody that’s 400 pound diabetic is of course going to lose weight more than a 150 pound person, because 400 person is use to eating. It’s a lot harder for 150 to lose weight as fast. Last but not least people that won’t eat after 4 are probably going to starve and going to fall back on snack eating at night.

    October 8, 2014 at 17:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Jane Doe

    “Jacque Wilson posted an article about eating two meals may be better than six small ones”. But this is nonsense. These scientists are making it seem like this two meal deal is a positive for you which it is not. First of all, eating smaller meals speeds up your metabolism and helps you keep control of your blood sugar levels. Second of all you should have never told them to stay at the same exercise pace, because some individuals could already work out more than others do. It would have been better just to tell them not to exercise at all. I think that would have got better results. The reason is because somebody that’s 400 pound diabetic is of course going to lose weight more than a 150 pound person, because 400 person is use to eating. It’s a lot harder for 150 to lose weight as fast. Last but not least people that won’t eat after 4 are probably going to starve and going to fall back on snack eating at night.

    Sincerely,

    Jane Doe

    October 8, 2014 at 17:30 | Report abuse | Reply
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