Fewer, larger meals key to weight loss?
June 25th, 2013
11:09 AM ET

Fewer, larger meals key to weight loss?

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, research presented at the American Diabetes Association Scientific Sessions conference this week in Chicago 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," she says. 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.

soundoff (441 Responses)
  1. USA


    June 25, 2013 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Michael Addition

      I have been using "intermittent fasting" for 8 months, where I go about 16 hours a day fasting and eat during an 8 hour window. The way I do it, though, is to skip breakfast, eat a moderate lunch, and then a large dinner. I have gotten tremendous results from this (along with continuing my exercise). The nice thing about this way of eating is that it is socially easy because it's really at lunch and dinner that we eat with others, and it allows you to splurge more at night.

      My routine:
      In the AM: drink black coffee or tea
      At noon: eat chicken salad or something similar, raw almonds, and a banana
      In the evening: Turkey/chicken/or fish, a large salad, rice or a sweet potato, some fruit
      Later: dark chocolate, or more fruit

      I also try to workout just before I eat lunch or dinner 4-5 days a week. I found that for about a week it was an adjustment, and now I don't even think about not eating breakfast. I just wake up, brush my teeth, and go about my day. You'll find that by late morning you're no more hungry than you would be if you eat a carb-rich breakfast like most Americans.

      Also, note the absence of most grains save a bit of rice and the occasional splurge. Unless you're an endurance athlete, you really don't need grains to get through the day and you won't miss them when they're gone.

      June 26, 2013 at 07:51 | Report abuse |
    • Down30

      They don't even know if the two groups ate the same amount of calories? Then this study proves nothing. I have gone to 3 lighter meals a day (300-400 cal) and one healthy late afternoon snack (150-200) to lose weight. If you eat the right stuff that's a lot of food and keeps you satisfied all day, and I've lost 30 lbs so far. But everybody is different. Be sensible and find what works for you. McDonalds all day then skipping dinner probably isn't a good idea! Good Luck!

      June 26, 2013 at 09:09 | Report abuse |
    • Mike C

      I have found all of this to be very true. I have lost 204 pounds in the last 20 months doing just this- breakfast of 800 calories and lunch of about 1000 calories. As time has past and I began weight training I did start to have about 600 calories of mostly protein for dinner to build muscle. Exercised 5 of 7 days a week for a least one hour was key to enjoying cheat meals without gaining.

      June 26, 2013 at 09:30 | Report abuse |
  2. Todd

    This is much like part of David Agostine "The Conspiracy Diet" where he proposes eating a Large Breakfast (All you can eat), A good lunch and a smaller dinner with no carbs. Where when you go to sleep at night, you will not have the extra energy from the day and you will burn fat while you sleep, while during the day your breakfast and lunch gives you energy throughout the day.

    June 25, 2013 at 12:26 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Al

      That sounds like the advice: eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner serf.

      I also endorse what Michael Pollan says, "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

      June 26, 2013 at 10:50 | Report abuse |
  3. samson dah

    This sounded like the most flawed and nonsensical experiment I have ever heard. They were supposed to compare eating 6 smaller meals. This is not the same as 3 main meals and 3 snacks. Who are conducting these tests, third graders?

    June 25, 2013 at 14:05 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rick DeBay

      > They were supposed to compare eating 6 smaller meals.
      How do you know, did you approve their grant proposal? You may want to improve your reading comprehension skills, your statement and conclusion are not supported by anything in this article.
      From the study abstract: "The aim of our study was to compare the effect of six vs. two meals a day with the same caloric restriction on body weight and HbA1c in subjects with T2D."

      June 25, 2013 at 15:19 | Report abuse |
    • carol

      I thought the same thing. Eating 5 meals is not supposed to mean eating 3 main meals but only eating small portions including a good carb and low fat protein at each meal. Most people overdue it. No matter how you look at it the older you get you must decrease your caloric intake.

      June 25, 2013 at 19:33 | Report abuse |
  4. Calidip

    Keep the metabolism on fire throughout the day. Sports nutritionalists have known this for years. Large meals early in the day, then taper it off as the day wears on. This helps with those "stubborn pounds". People think that they cut calories and exercize more will do the trick. It doesn't It actually slows down your metabolism because the body is trying to survive because it's thinking it's going to starve (fight or flight mode).

    June 25, 2013 at 15:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • bpotts

      Actually you are completely false. There is no "stoking" of the metabolism. When you eat your metabolism increases proportional to the amount of food that you eat this is called the thermogenic effect of food. It doesn't matter if you eat once per day or 20 times your metabolism will be the same.

      June 25, 2013 at 16:33 | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Did you not read the article?

      June 27, 2013 at 01:29 | Report abuse |
  5. bpotts

    This type of diet is called intermittent fasting and is extremely effective. It primarily is employed by skipping breakfast and eating 2-3 meals starting at lunch. It works by keeping insulin levels steady especially when combined with moderate protein and fats in the diet. I've used this very effectively to lose weight and rarely feel hungry.

    June 25, 2013 at 16:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • notafatty

      i tuned out at "skipping breakfast..." worst.plan.ever.

      June 26, 2013 at 12:02 | Report abuse |
  6. GBfromOhio

    I have been studying a similar approach, IF (intermittent fasting) specifically the leangains protocol and been doing it for about 6 weeks. There is definitely an adjustment period. I have lost a few pounds and I'm more toned, although I had already lost over 20 pounds in about a year's time by cutting back on / nearly eliminating grains and not really looking to lose any more weight. The right kind and amount of food is most important, but the timing aspect is a factor also IMO.

    June 25, 2013 at 19:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Andrew

    I 100% agree. The eat-every-3-hours idea makes the most intellectual sense but the best results I've had were when I went on a tour vacation; stuffed myself on the free breakfasts, had to buy a sandwich for lunch and a "just enough" small dinner.. returned with almost a 6 pack after only 2 weeks. Which sadly, disappeared a week later back on my regular diet.

    June 25, 2013 at 19:19 | Report abuse | Reply
    • seehawksgo

      While I agree that intermittent fasting is effective for sustained weight loss, it's entirely possible that your vacation weight loss is because you're more active while on vacation than you are at home.

      June 26, 2013 at 03:16 | Report abuse |
    • Lintlicker

      Seems that way , but when I was in Germany we hiked / walked for 80% of the time. And not sitting around watching TV or doing nothing, so that was the real reason why you prob lost weight.

      June 26, 2013 at 04:19 | Report abuse |
  8. Isoquita

    Their conclusion just proves a saying that very old saying that goes like this:
    Eat breakfast like a king, eat lunch like a prince, and eat dinner like a pauper.

    June 25, 2013 at 19:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Anna

      Eat breakfast with a friend, eat lunch alone and give dinner to enemy.

      June 26, 2013 at 07:45 | Report abuse |
  9. alex

    Don't trust anything CNN tells you. They lost weight because they didn't pig out at dinner. CNN wants you to keep eating your fast food at lunch and for breakfast go the MD for an egg sandwich with meat on it!

    June 25, 2013 at 20:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. alex

    54 people ...yeh that is some research!!!!

    June 25, 2013 at 20:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • hiigaran

      I assume you're implying that the sample size is too small for the study to be valid, in which case I will tell you: Take a statistics course. A sample size of 54 is sufficiently large to discover a statistically significant result if the data is gathered properly.

      June 26, 2013 at 09:19 | Report abuse |
  11. Fed Up

    Good grief. MAKE UP YOUR MINDS! Next week, or even tomorrow, it will be something else. Wait another month and we'll be back to needing to eat more often, but smaller meals a day. Know what we should do, especially when I find out my tax dollars are subsidizing these ridiculous studies, is to Just Say No to giving anyone else anymore money to do research on a topic that any 5-year-old can tell you the results.

    June 25, 2013 at 21:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Steve

      @ Fed Up

      Your tax dollars are paying for research in the Czech Republic?

      June 25, 2013 at 21:33 | Report abuse |

    Most if not all individuals that have commented on this article holds a Doctorate in BROSCIENCE.

    June 25, 2013 at 22:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. ItSoNlYmE

    This is ONE STUDY!! One study of ANYTHING does not mean it is conclusive evidence. If Dr. Gupta were any kind of a real physician he wouldn't have his name associated with garbage reporting like this. When the results of this study have been peer reviewed, and (much more importantly) other studies achieve the same results, then we'll think about calling it fact. Meantime, CNN is just giving fat Americans another excuse to sit down to a portion size that would choke a, well, I was going to say a pig...

    June 25, 2013 at 22:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Amo

    In 2002 or thereabouts, I learnt in Cuba (3rd World, underdeveloped, embargoed, socialist, poverty stricken, etc) that you eat your entire breakfast; you give away half of your lunch and you gave away all your dinner.
    Couldn't the grant funds wasted on the study be used for something new and worthwhile?

    June 25, 2013 at 23:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Always Right

    The key is to eat less and more health foods and exercise. Splitting up your fatty meals or stuffing yourself with garbage for breakfast and lunch is like ordering a double big mac and large fries with a extra large diet coke and expecting a big difference because you got a diet coke instead of the regular one.

    June 25, 2013 at 23:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Mahmood

      If Americans adapted and ate halal meats and goat curry there would be no fat people in America

      June 25, 2013 at 23:29 | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      Where in the article does it state to eat more garbage? Eating more doesn't have to equate to eating more garbage.

      June 26, 2013 at 09:02 | Report abuse |
  16. Amo

    Actually, I learnt this in 1996-1997.

    June 25, 2013 at 23:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Fiesta_bear

    At least the stock photo at the top uses Fiesta dinnerware in turquoise 🙂

    June 25, 2013 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Rupinder Singh

    As always america has no respect of other caltures thats why america is fat not India or GB

    June 25, 2013 at 23:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Ali V

    Most healthy people know that the best diet comes from the Holy Koran and an all Halal diet is nutritious and delicious no matter how you eat it.

    June 25, 2013 at 23:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. yo yo

    Don't pay attention to any of these B.S. studies! Do what works for you! Multiple small meals daily works for me, it doesn't work for everyone because everyone is different, we are not clones.

    June 25, 2013 at 23:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. ubergoober

    they said weight loss. they didn't say whether that weight was fat or muscle

    June 25, 2013 at 23:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Sam

    Weight loss is simple...eat less calories...burn more calories than you eat. It doesn't matter how you eat them. Glad I solved that for everyone.

    June 26, 2013 at 00:55 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Rbnlegend101

      If it's that easy, why doesn't it work for so many people? Seriously, if it was that easy, all those people trying to lose weight would have lost weight. Eat less, and your body reacts in many ways, not all of which lead to weight loss. When I was in my 20's, I could lose weight on 3000 calories a day. My wife gained weight on 800 calories a day, before her celiac was diagnosed. There just isn't one answer, because there are so many different ways that people's bodies are put together, and then damaged, over the years.

      If body weight is a simple function of food intake and daily exercise, how do so many people manage to balance their food intake and their exercise levels exactly, every day, for years at a time? Especially when so few people can correctly answer "how many chocolate chip cookies are 100 sit-ups worth?" The answer is, your body adjusts to maintain weight despite fluctuations in food intake and daily exertion, on some days it runs a little more efficiently, on others a little less so, which allows 2400 calories of intake to balance a very sedentary day on thursday, and 1900 calories to balance a very active saturday.

      And to come back to the article, I have always thought that some intervals of fasting are good for you. Humans didn't evolve to survive in an environment where there are piles of food stacked up around us at all times. We evolved in an environment where we had too much food, or too little, and sometimes the times with too little lasted longer than anyone would like. Skip a meal, have a meatless week, eat like a king for a day, eat a dozen apples in an afternoon and skip dinner. Constant steady comfort is terrible for humans.

      June 26, 2013 at 09:08 | Report abuse |
  23. comedy club

    Ah! This is what I wanted to hear!! I am going to have my 6 small meals and 2 large meals a day!! I will loose double the pounds!!!

    June 26, 2013 at 01:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Kathy in KC

    Thank you. I have been doing this for YEARS and have been ridiculed by friends and family. I have not lost a significant amount of weight but some. I have mainly been chastised for not eating a substantial dinner/supper. I find it hard to sleep well after a heavy meal so I eat a big breakfast, light lunch and maybe a snack or some bouillon later. I do all my heavy activity or exercise early in the day and I find that I sleep very well. Thank you again for supporting what I've been doing for several decades with moderate success and feeling very good with it.

    June 26, 2013 at 01:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. shawn l

    I eat one meal a day. As big a meal as I can eat, and try to not include any of the bad things. A hand full of berries or nuts is the limit to my snacking through the day.

    June 26, 2013 at 02:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. MashaSobaka

    Next week they'll be saying the opposite. If you want to lose weight, you'll have to experiment quite a lot because EVERY SINGLE FREAKING BODY IS DIFFERENT. Find what works for YOU and stick with it. It might not work for your neighbor. It might not work for ANYONE else. THAT DOESN'T MATTER. Find what works FOR YOU, and don't let ANYONE give you crap for it.

    June 26, 2013 at 03:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • oksunny

      I agree 100%. The only thing that applies across the board is that you need to get exercise and eat healthy...how much and how often depends on the individual.

      I rarely eat breakfast. I eat a large lunch and then something small for dinner. Im fairly healthy ~ 5'9" and 150lbs (female)

      June 26, 2013 at 11:16 | Report abuse |
  27. Lintlicker

    This explain why all the obese people are at the lunch and Dinner buffet!!!

    June 26, 2013 at 04:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Lindalou

    Burn more calories than you take in and you lose weight (barring any medical condition). Get up and move, force yourself to take the stairs, park at the end of the parking lot, be active after dinner, go for a walk instead of plopping your butt on the couch. You'll be laying down permanently before you know it!

    June 26, 2013 at 07:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. ID

    You're not going to lose weight no matter how you eat unless you burn off the calories you intake. It's incredible how everyone tries to get results without doing any work.

    June 26, 2013 at 07:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • shortcutsally

      Big AMEN!!! I tried eating big meals in the morning. I want to go back to bed. This may work for some but not all.
      Everybody is different. Find what works for you. Bottom line at the end of the day calories count!!

      June 26, 2013 at 08:18 | Report abuse |
  30. webwench1

    Here's a new concept, eat when your hungry, stop when you are full. No debate needed!

    June 26, 2013 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. RainBoKatchr

    How the hell are you supposed to sleep if you're famished? I'd be lying awake all night with low blood sugar, in a state of anxiety with my heart pounding. Definitely have to eat a carbs/fat/protein snack before bed, such as plain yogurt with fruit.

    June 26, 2013 at 09:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. palintwit

    I'd rather be locked inside a room full of squeaking balloons while chewing on aluminum foil than have to listen to Sarah Palin's shrieky, finger nails on a chalkboard voice.

    June 26, 2013 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. dt

    LOL. LOLOL! Oh NO! The new fad diet!! Quick everyone, start eating huge meals!! The media says so!!

    If you dont know how to lose weight by now, you should stop trying.

    June 26, 2013 at 09:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Brandon

    the only "key" to weightloss is eating burning more calories than you eat. Eating 3 meals, or 1 meal, or 6 meals is completely irrelevant. It's all about counting calories.

    June 26, 2013 at 09:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Bob

    meaningless "study" – they werent even sure that the experimental and control groups consumed the same number of calories?!?! And what about controlling for what time during the day the calories were consumed – there are plenty of studies that say that people who eat dinner earlier lose weight.

    June 26, 2013 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. squid

    Ramadan is just two weeks away, try fasting a whole month from about 3am to 8:30pm and get the results. 🙂

    June 26, 2013 at 09:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. mikeb

    Reminds me of something I have heard almost my entire life: breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.

    June 26, 2013 at 10:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. apd

    – Smaller and more meals help you OBVIOUSLY because you do not overeat and you do not store the excess energy from one large meal into fat.
    -A large breakfast helps you because you need energy during the day and NOT at night when you sleep. It's better to starve while sleeping and be energetic while working.
    – Drinking more water helps you obviously because being hydrated keeps your hunger pangs away and you don't end up gorging on unhealthy stuff.

    Any other variations that statisticians come up with are meaningless. You need something that "sticks permanently". You can try some fancy draconian diet for a month and quickly drop 10 pounds, but it needs to be sustainable. People have jobs, families, kids, so you need energy and zest to handle multiple fronts. Who cares if you eat 2 large meals and no dinner or 6 small meals? Anything is better than eating junk food, drinking soda and candies.

    June 26, 2013 at 10:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Al

    I've been doing the alternate day fasting routine. I've lost 15lbs in two months. The goal isn't just losing weight, but better all around health.

    On the Alternate Day fast you eat your regular meals on one day, then the next you eat one meal in the middle of the day. Men are restricted to 600 calories, women, 500 calories. The fasting becomes easier once your body gets used to it. The article seems to lend credence to this intermitting fast routine.

    Alternate day fasting also works if you just fast for two days a week.

    June 26, 2013 at 10:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. CT

    If the article is about large meals, why is the picture of a small one? Two eggs and a side of fruit is hardly a "large" meal by American standards.

    June 26, 2013 at 11:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Jen

    Why don't doctors just admit they don't have clue? The only things that are really known are that you should eat real food and mostly veggies.

    June 26, 2013 at 11:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Lou

    Dinner has always been a meal served in the middle of a day while supper was served later in the day. Sad that dinner and supper have become intermingled in our language while dinner and lunch have always been properly intermingled. Easier to follow or allow the ignorant to change the language than correct the incorrigible. Eat less and exercise more to lose weight. Eat more and exercise less to gain weight regardless of the time of day.

    June 26, 2013 at 11:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. JonfromLI

    Eating smaller portions may be a key to losing weight. Next time on NEWS OF THE OBVIOUS: throwing a rock at a bee hive may actually get you stung.

    June 26, 2013 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. mike

    Here's the truth: there's no getting around the need for exercise, and eating crap is eating crap. Everything else is snake oil hogwash.

    June 26, 2013 at 11:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. sha

    I've been doing this for over ten years and it has worked for me. I just feel better when I eat most of my food for the day early. I have trouble sleeping when I eat a big dinner. I'm pretty much done eating for the day by 3-4 o'clock in the afternoon. But everyone has to figure things out for themselves. We are all different. The important thing is to find what works for you and then stick with it. Also, realize that you may have to diverge from the way/times that the rest of the family is eating.

    June 26, 2013 at 11:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Brian

    Consume fewer calories than you burn and you will lose weight. It's simple physics and there's no magic diet that gets around that constraint.

    June 26, 2013 at 12:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. J M

    Calories in. Calories Out. Its not hard. Grow up and get in shape America.

    June 26, 2013 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. Katie

    This has been true for me – I have been on the fast-5 diet for a couple of years now, so I only eat in a 5 hour window each day (usually 2-7pm, but I move the window if I want to go out to earlier brunch or eat a late dinner). I am not super strict about it, and I have still lost about 20lbs (all the weight I gained when I had kids) and kept it off with very little effort and without changing my exercise habits at all. I do not have problems with food cravings as I did before the diet and find it very easy to avoid eating outside the window. The diet has saved me money (I buy less food) and saved me time (less food prep and eating) so I will probably keep doing it forever.

    June 26, 2013 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. Cindy

    Something for nothing. You are what you eat. What is really sad, is the amount of fat kids in USA. If you really what to lose the pounds, you will. If not, well Jenny Craig, Weight Watcher will love taking your money.

    June 26, 2013 at 12:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. JenniferJustice

    I have been doing this for only 2.5 months and have lost 10 lbs. I can't beleive I already made my goal in only 2+ months! I do not eat breakfast. I eat lunch and small dinner. No snacks, no crud for eithe meal. I have more energy, faster metabolism, and ciriously, more BMs than before I started this. The first few days were challenging b/c I was used to having a large dinner and snacks before and after. Once my stomach got used to less food, it's been a breeze. There have been times when I have not eaten dinner at all and I see nothing wrong with brief intermittent fasting. Americans are indulgent and we're used to it b/c it's all we've known. We do not need to eat so much and we do not to meat at every meal regardless of whether or not we're vegans/vegetarians. I read that the monks in Tibet abstain from meat but once or twice a week, not due to religious beliefs about pork, cloven hooves, etc. but b/c they see meat as a privelege and being the disciplined people that they are, feel it should be a "treat" so most meals are meatless. This is so much healthier than meat at every meal or complete abstention from meat. I think they have it right.

    June 26, 2013 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
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