Throughout the long and turbulent history of nutrition and physical health, there have been many theories and approaches left behind in the name of accurate, up-to-date scientific findings. One such archaic belief is that higher meal frequency directly correlates with weight loss — that smaller, more frequent meals will somehow stoke your metabolic process and accelerate the fat burning process.

As I recently covered in an LBC Community video, there is currently no scientific or medical findings supporting this theory, and if someone is still telling you it is true, you should seriously consider discrediting their insight henceforth. The theory boils down to a series of misunderstandings pertaining to the thermic effect of food consumption, or specific dynamic action, which itself refers to the energy your body requires to properly digest and assimilate what you have eaten. The misconception comes from a perceived end all/be all relationship between meal frequency and this effect, which is simply not true.

In reality, the thermic effect is more related to the total number of calories you consume, not the number of meals you eat. If you are aiming to consume 2,000 calories in a day, it does not matter if you do so in 12 small meals or six larger ones — at the end of the day, it’s still 2,000 calories that you need to process and assimilate. The problem with the former is that it can potentially be both excessive and unnecessary, depending on your dietary needs and behavioral tendencies; at the end of the day, your optimal meal frequency must be contingent on your own version of sustainability; this means consistently eating in a manner that will silence temptations to go far off-plan while keeping yourself nourished. If you are following a more aggressive weight loss plan and you are still fine tuning your will power, for instance, it could be problematic to eat less frequent, but much larger meals on a regular basis.

All of the above in mind, you may end up being someone who benefits from higher meal frequency in the long run, but not for the reasons cited in outdated interpretations of thermic eating. Do not fall into the trap of assuming this approach is a blanket means of boosting metabolism; you will only put constraints on what should otherwise be a personalized, plan-oriented eating strategy.