With the constant bombardment of fad diets and weight loss tips, it can be challenging to decipher what will truly help shed those extra pounds. One of the most debated questions is whether it’s better to eat less or eat less frequently, i.e., skip a meal. This article will explore the science behind these two strategies and discuss which might be better suited for your weight loss goals.
Science Behind Calorie Restriction and Weight Loss
The fundamental principle of weight loss is simple – burn more calories than you consume.
Therefore, restricting calorie intake is often the primary approach to weight loss.
The science behind calorie restriction is based on the concept of energy balance.
Energy balance is the relationship between the calories you consume and the calories your body burns.
When you consume more calories than you burn, the excess calories are stored as fat, which can lead to weight gain.
Conversely, when you consume fewer calories than you burn, your body will burn stored fat, leading to weight loss.
Several studies have demonstrated that calorie restriction is an effective weight loss strategy.
However, it’s worth noting that calorie restriction can be challenging to maintain long-term, and extreme calorie restriction can be dangerous and adversely affect health.
Therefore, finding a balance that works for you and your body is crucial to achieving sustainable weight loss.
Science Behind Meal Skipping And Weight Loss
Intermittent fasting, a popular form of meal skipping, has recently gained popularity as a weight loss tool.
The science behind it is that skipping meals creates a calorie deficit, leading to weight loss.
Short-time fasting results in ketosis, where the body doesn’t have enough glucose to burn for energy production, so it uses stored fat instead.
This leads to the production of ketones overall, resulting in weight loss.
Studies have also shown that intermittent fasting can improve insulin sensitivity, which is crucial in weight loss.
However, it’s important to note that meal skipping may not be a sustainable long-term solution for weight loss for all.
It can be challenging to maintain, and many regain weight once they stop fasting.
Speaking to a healthcare professional is recommended before embarking on any form of meal skipping.
Eating Less or Skipping Meals: Which Is Better?
New research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association evaluated the association between time from the first meal to the last meal with weight change.
The study was conducted on nearly 550 adults from 3 different health centers.
|80% self-identified as white adults, 12% as black adults, and about 3% as Asian adults
|College or higher (most participants)
|Average follow-up time
The Daily24 App
The team created a mobile app called Daily 24 for participants to input real-time sleeping, eating, and wake-up timings for every 24-hour window.
The app was powered with in-app notifications, encouraging participants to use it as much as possible during the study period.
The app enables the researchers to measure the following:
- the time from the first meal to the last meal each day
- the time lapse from waking to the first meal
- the interval from the last meal to sleep
Those with higher BMI were more likely to:
- Be black
- Be older
- Have type 2 diabetes/hypertension
- Have lower education levels
- Exercise less
- Consume lesser fruits and vegetables
- Have a more prolonged duration between the last meal and sleep time.
- The shorter period between the first and last meal
compared to those with lower BMI.
- Average time from first to last meal – 11.5 hours
- Average time from waking up to first meal – 1.6 hours
- Average time from last meal to sleep – 4 hours
- Average sleep duration – 7.5 hours
The analysis of the 6-year data found:
- There was no association between meal time and weight change in a population with a wide range of body weight – including time between first and last meal, waking up and first meal, and last meal and sleep time.
- The total number of large and medium meals (>1000 calories and 500-1000 calories/meal, respectively) was associated with weight gain, and fewer smaller meals (<500 calories/meal) were associated with weight loss.
Shortcomings Of The Study
According to the lead author, “although the study found that meal frequency and total calorie intake were stronger risk factors for weight change than meal timing, the findings could not prove direct cause and effect.”
The researchers also point out that they did not evaluate the complex interactions of timings and frequency of eating.
They also could not rule out any preexisting health conditions in the participants.
Further, the majority of the study participants were well-educated white women; further studies should aim to cover a more diverse population.
Intermittent Fasting Has Other Benefits
Intermittent fasting has recently gained popularity, and it’s not just because of weight loss.
There are several benefits associated with intermittent fasting.
- Improved insulin sensitivity: Intermittent fasting has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which can help regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
- Increased longevity: Some studies suggest that intermittent fasting can promote longevity by reducing the risk of age-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative disorders.
- Reduced inflammation: Chronic inflammation is associated with several diseases, and intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce inflammation in the body.
- Improved brain function: Intermittent fasting may improve brain function by promoting the growth of new brain cells and reducing the risk of neurodegenerative disorders.
It’s essential to note that more research is needed to confirm these benefits, and intermittent fasting may not be appropriate for everyone.
Therefore, speaking to a healthcare professional before starting any new diet or weight loss program is crucial.
Doing Calorie Restriction, The Right Way
Calorie restriction must be done safely and healthily to avoid adverse effects on the body.
Here are some tips for restricting calorie intake safely:
- Set a realistic calorie target: To lose weight, you need to consume fewer calories than your body needs. However, setting a real calorie target that is sustainable in the long term is essential. For example, if your daily intake is 2000 calories, start by lowering it to 1500 or 1700 calories instead or jumping straight to 1000 calories.
- Focus on nutrient-dense foods: When restricting calories, it’s crucial to focus on nutrient-dense foods that provide the body with the essential vitamins and minerals it needs. Examples of nutrient-dense foods include fruits and vegetables, whole grains, dairy products, seafood, lean meats, eggs, peas, beans, and nuts.
- Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water is crucial when calorie restricting. It can help keep you feeling full and is essential for overall health.
- Incorporate physical activity: Exercise can help to burn more calories, increase muscle mass, and improve overall health. Therefore, it’s vital to incorporate regular physical activity into your routine.
- Seek support: Losing weight can be challenging, and it’s essential to seek support from family, friends, or a healthcare professional to stay motivated and on track.
Calorie restriction is a widely-accepted, fundamental principle of weight loss, which involves consuming lesser calories than expending.
Skipping meals (popularly called intermittent fasting) has gained popularity recently, owing to several benefits outside weight loss.
A recent study that examined the effect of meal timings on weight loss reported that the timings at which we eat don’t have any effect on body weight; further, it found out that eating less frequent smaller meals (<500 calories) can help with weight loss.