11 myths about fasting and meal frequency

Fasting has become increasingly common.

In fact, intermittent fasting, a dietary pattern that circulates between periods of fasting and eating, is often promoted as a miracle diet.

However, not everything you’ve heard about the frequency of meals and your health is true.

Here are 11 myths about the frequency of fasting and eating.

Skipping breakfast makes you fat

An ongoing myth is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

People generally believe that skipping breakfast leads to excessive hunger, cravings and weight gain .

A 16-week study of 283 overweight and obese adults found no difference in weight between those who ate breakfast and those who did not ( 1 ).

Thus, breakfast does not affect your weight much, although there may be some individual variability. Some studies even suggest that people who lose weight in the long run tend to eat breakfast ( 2 ).

In addition, children and adolescents who eat breakfast tend to perform better at school ( 3 ).

As such, it is important to pay attention to your specific needs. Breakfast is beneficial for some people, while others may skip it without any negative consequences.

Breakfast can benefit many people, but it is not essential for your health. Controlled studies show no difference in weight loss between those who eat breakfast and those who ignore it.

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Eating often boosts your metabolism

Many people believe that eating more meals increases your metabolic rate , causing your body to burn more calories in general.

Your body actually expends some calories to digest meals. This is called the thermal effect of food (TEF) ( 4 ).

On average, TEF uses about 10% of the total calories ingested.

However, what matters is the total number of calories you consume – not how many meals you eat.

Eating six 500-calorie meals has the same effect as eating three 1,000-calorie meals. Given an average TEF of 10%, you will burn 300 calories in both cases.

Numerous studies show that increasing or decreasing the frequency of meals does not affect the total calories burned ( 5 ).

Contrary to popular belief, eating smaller meals more often does not increase your metabolism.

Eating often helps to reduce hunger

Some people believe that periodic feeding helps to prevent cravings and excessive hunger.

However, the evidence is mixed.

Although some studies have suggested that eating more frequent meals leads to reduced hunger, other studies have found no effect or even increased levels of hunger ( 6 , 7 , 8 , 9 ).

A study that compared eating three or six protein-rich meals a day found that eating three meals reduced hunger more effectively ( 10 ).

That said, the answers may depend on the individual. If frequent eating reduces your cravings, it’s probably a good idea. Still, there is no evidence that snacking or eating more often reduces hunger for everyone.

There is no consistent evidence that eating more often reduces hunger or total caloric intake. Instead, some studies show that smaller, more frequent meals increase hunger.

Frequent meals can help you lose weight

Since eating more often does not increase your metabolism, it also has no effect on weight loss ( 11 , 12 ).

In fact, a study of 16 adults with obesity compared the effects of eating 3 and 6 meals a day and found no difference in weight, fat loss or appetite ( 13 ).

Some people claim that eating often makes it difficult to adhere to a healthy diet. However, if you find that eating more often makes it easier to eat less calories and less junk food, feel free to stick with it.

There is no evidence that changing the frequency of the meal will help you lose weight.

Your brain needs a regular supply of glucose in the diet

Some people claim that if you don’t eat carbohydrates every few hours, your brain will stop functioning.

This is based on the belief that your brain can only use glucose as fuel.

However, your body can easily produce the glucose it needs through a process called gluconeogenesis ( 14 ).

Even during long-term fasting, starvation or very, very low carbohydrate diets, your body can produce ketone bodies from dietary fats ( 15 ).

Ketone bodies can feed parts of your brain, significantly reducing your need for glucose.

However, some people report feeling fatigued or shaken when they haven’t eaten for a while. If this applies to you, consider keeping snacks on hand or eating more often.

Your body can produce glucose on its own to supply your brain, which means that you don’t need a constant glucose intake in your diet.

Eating is often good for your health

Some people believe that relentless eating benefits their health.

However, short-term fasting induces a cell repair process called autophagy, in which your cells use old, dysfunctional proteins for energy (1 6).

Autophagy can help protect against aging, cancer and conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease ( 17 , 18 ).

Thus, occasional fasting has several benefits for your metabolic health ( 19 , 20 , 21 ).

Some studies suggest that eating or eating often harms your health and increases your risk of illness.

For example, one study found that a high-calorie diet with numerous meals caused a substantial increase in liver fat, indicating an increased risk of fatty liver disease ( 22 ).

In addition, some observational studies show that people who eat more often have a much higher risk of colorectal cancer ( 23 , 24 ).

It is a myth that the snack is inherently good for your health. Instead, fasting from time to time has great health benefits.

Fasting puts your body in hunger mode

A common argument against intermittent fasting is that it puts your body in starvation mode, thus shutting down your metabolism and preventing you from burning fat.

While it is true that long-term weight loss can reduce the number of calories you burn over time, this is true regardless of the weight loss method you use ( 25 ).

There is no evidence that intermittent fasting causes a greater reduction in calories burned than other weight loss strategies.

In fact, short-term fasts can increase your metabolic rate.

This is due to a drastic increase in blood levels of norepinephrine, which stimulates metabolism and instructs fat cells to break down body fat ( 26 , 27 ).

Studies show that fasting for up to 48 hours can increase metabolism by 3.6 to 14%. However, if you fast much longer, the effects can reverse, decreasing your metabolism ( 27 , 28 , 29 ).

One study showed that fasting on alternate days for 22 days did not lead to a reduction in metabolic rate, but an average loss of fat mass of 4% ( 30 ).

Short-term fasting does not put your body in starvation mode. Instead, your metabolism increases during fastings of up to 48 hours.

Your body can only use a certain amount of protein per meal

Some people claim that you can only digest 30 grams of protein per meal and that you should eat every 2 to 3 hours to maximize muscle gain.

However, this is not supported by science.

Studies show that eating your protein in more frequent doses does not affect muscle mass ( 31 , 32 , 33 ).

The most important factor for most people is the total amount of protein consumed – not the number of meals that are distributed.

Your body can easily use more than 30 grams of protein per meal. It is not necessary to obtain protein every 2-3 hours.

Intermittent fasting makes you lose muscle

Some people believe that when you fast, your body starts to burn muscles for fuel.

Although this happens with the diet in general, no evidence suggests that it occurs more with intermittent fasting than other methods.

On the other hand, studies indicate that intermittent fasting is better for maintaining muscle mass.

In one review, intermittent fasting caused weight loss similar to that of continuous caloric restriction – but with a much smaller reduction in muscle mass ( 34 ).

Another study showed a modest increase in muscle mass for people who consumed all their calories during a huge meal in the evening ( 31 ).

Notably, intermittent fasting is popular with many bodybuilders, who find it helps to maintain muscle alongside a low percentage of body fat.

There is no evidence that fasting causes more muscle loss than conventional calorie restriction. In fact, studies show that intermittent fasting can help maintain muscle mass during the diet.

Intermittent fasting is bad for your health

While you may have heard rumors that intermittent fasting harms your health, studies reveal that it has several impressive health benefits ( 19 , 20 , 21 ).

For example, it alters its gene expression related to longevity and immunity and has been shown to prolong life expectancy in animals ( 35 , 36 , 37 , 38 , 39 ).

It also has important benefits for metabolic health, such as improved insulin sensitivity and reduced oxidative stress, inflammation and risk of heart disease ( 19 , 21 , 40 , 41 ).

It can also increase brain health by raising levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a hormone that can protect against depression and several other mental conditions ( 42 , 43 , 44 ).

While there are rumors that it is harmful, short-term fasting has powerful benefits for your body and brain.

Intermittent fasting makes you overeat

Some individuals claim that intermittent fasting causes you to overeat during periods of eating.

While it is true that you can compensate for the calories lost during a fast by automatically eating a little more later, this compensation is not complete.

One study showed that people who fasted for 24 hours only ended up eating about 500 extra calories the next day – much less than the 2,400 calories they had lost during fasting ( 45 ).

As it reduces overall food consumption and insulin levels while increasing metabolism, norepinephrine levels and human growth hormone (HGH) levels, intermittent fasting causes you to lose fat – and not gain it ( 27 , 46 , 47 , 48 ).

According to a review, the 3-24 week fast caused average weight and belly fat losses of 3-8% and 4-7%, respectively ( 49 ).

As such, intermittent fasting can be one of the most powerful tools for losing weight.

Intermittent fasting is an effective method of weight loss. Despite claims to the contrary, no evidence suggests that intermittent fasting promotes weight gain.

Numerous myths are perpetuated about intermittent fasting and the frequency of meals.

However, many of these rumors are not true.

For example, eating smaller, more frequent meals does not increase your metabolism or help you lose weight. Furthermore, intermittent fasting is far from harmful – and can offer numerous benefits.

It is important to consult sources or do a little research before jumping to conclusions about your metabolism and general health.


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