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Single Digit Body Fat on Six Meals a Day

Some people will tell you that to lose fat you have to eat less often, and some will tell you that "six meals a day" is just someone's opinion and it is not advice worth following. Those people are wrong.

As I write this, my body fat is at 7.5% and I have been eating six meals a day for many years. For me, 7.5% is higher than normal--I prefer to be a bit leaner than that, but strawberries are in season and I am picking up extra calories by eating a few too many of them.

I'm lean, but not because of to genes or youth. I won't go into my family history here, but I will say my genes work against me. How about youth? I am approaching my 46th birthday as I write this--youth is not even a consideration!

If I can have single-digit body fat, so can any man. For women, we don't want to focus on the body fat number but instead focus on being at a fat level where you look and feel good. If you have a flat or rippled tummy, you're lean enough.

A woman who needed to lose 370 pounds (that is the actual number) contacted me for advice. In her mind, she was doing everything right but still unable to dip below 500 lbs of body weight.

One reason she felt this way was she was eating only once a day. Eat fewer meals and lose weight, right? Wrong. In fact, the opposite is more likely to occur. The side effects include such things as nutrient malabsorption, reduced metabolism, hormonal imbalances, and a need to "pig out" when you do eat.

Another effect in most people who are on a "supper only" plan is they snack throughout the day but somehow manage not to count this as eating. It's not uncommon to take in another 3,000 calories through these snacks.

Or, they may seek to stave off hunger by drinking calorie-laden beverages. I counseled two people who were completely in denial about this:

  • Person One drank a liter bottle of some soft drink or another about every two hours, racking up a total of 6 to 8 liters a day. At 400+ calories per liter, this is an enormous calorie load. A single liter provides about 1/4 to 1/5 of the calories an average active adult needs to maintain body weight. So if you are budgeting calories across six meals, that's a meal and a half already!
  • Person Two went beyond merely "borderline" stupid. This person saw a commercial for light beer, and decided that drinking light beer was a great way to lose weight. If you're already drinking beer, then drinking a light beer will provide you with fewer calories. But beer is a belly-builder no matter how you look at it. Drinking two six-packs of light beer a day means is not an effective weight loss plan. If you simply enjoy a beer with your dinner, then switching to a light beer will be helpful. Doing away with the beer altogether is even better. The point here is this person was in denial about a major source of calories.

The effects of "one a day" meals are lessened with the "traditional" three meals a day, but still present. In the bodybuilding world, the concept of having five or six meals a day is a given. Why? Because eating the same amount of food spread out over six meals will result in more muscle and less fat than if eaten in three meals.

This is true for many reasons, some of which we'll address in just a second. First, let me make it clear that eating the same size meals twice as often isnot what six meals a day is about.

Eating six meals a day works, because it:

  • Levels out your blood sugar. This may be the single most important benefit for purposes of maintaining proper body fat levels. Vacillating blood sugar levels will cause an excess of insulin production. Insulin is antagonistic to testosterone, so when your insulin is high your body is in "fat storing" mode. To become fatter, just eat less frequently than you should.
  • Allows an optimal hormonal environment to exist. We just mentioned the hormones insulin and testosterone. There are other hormonal responses related to food frequency and food content. Eating infrequently throws these out of whack. Eating six meals a day allows the right conditions to exist for optimum fat burning.
  • Eliminates hunger. Stretching your stomach with a double-sized meal three times a day means you're going to be hungry, and thus you're going to eat more. This can get you into a vicious cycle, which explains why Americans tend to get fatter as they get older. Keeping your stomach to "design size" by eating six meals a day means it's not going to be empty as often.
  • Improves nutrient absorption. Eating less at one time reduces the load on your entire digestive tract, allowing it to function better and more efficiently. This means you get more nutrients from a given amount of food.
  • Increases metabolism. By keeping your digestive tract "stoked" with food and by keeping your blood sugar up (rather than up and down and way up again and way down again), you maintain a higher metabolism. This means you burn more calories all day long.
  • Eliminates starvation responses. Because your body is processing food pretty much all day long, no starvation response is ever initiated. The starvation response is basically a hormonal change that increases hunger, slows down metabolism, reduces fat burning, increases the body's use of lean tissue (e.g., muscle) as fuel, and alters your food choices toward the more fattening ones.

Another benefit of smaller meals is there's less tendency to wolf down your food, so you enjoy your meals more. That, alone, should make it a strategy to follow. But I also like the idea of not carrying around excess body fat and not being at risk for a long list of obesity-related diseases. There's a certain feeling of freedom that brings.


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The articles on this site are authoritative, because:

  • Every contributor is an expert in his or her field.
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 Where an article is not bylined with a specific author's name, it was written by Mark Lamendola (see photos on home page and elsewhere on this site). Mark is a 4th degree blackbelt, has not been sick since 1971, and has not missed a workout since 1977. Just an example of how Mark knows what he's talking about: In his early 50s, Mark demonstrated a biceps curl using half his body weight. That's a Jack LaLanne level stunt. Few people can even come close. If you want to know how to build a strong, beautiful body, read the articles here.

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