How the Number of Meals Affects Weight Gain


  1. Is the frequency of eating related to weight gain/loss?
  2. How many meals a day can increase your weight the most? 
  3. Can eating more often help you lose weight? 
  4. Cause and effect can be reversed
    The bottom line

1.  Is the frequency of eating related to weight gain/loss?

Some experts say that, “if the total daily caloric intake is the same, it doesn't matter how many meals a day you eat," but I assure you that the number of times you eat definitely affects your weight gain (or loss).
Indeed, if total caloric intake alone were the direct cause of weight gain, then frequency might not matter much, but my theory, as I have explained many times, is different from that.

base weight


I mentioned that the phrase "to gain weight" has two meanings. Let me explain part (B) first. (see Figure-1)

Many people believe that taking in more calories and/or carbohydrates makes you fat,  which means going back to their base weight. 

In this case, I think it doesn’t have much to do with how many meals you eat a day. Rather, it’s the caloric or carbohydrate intake that matters. People who normally keep their weight lower through dieting or who cut excess body fat through workouts can gain weight if their caloric intake is higher than necessary, regardless of the number of meals they eat.

As for part (A), the frequency of eating has a lot to do with it. Since base weight itself goes up by inducing intestinal starvation, eating more frequently and in a more spread out manner is less likely to result in weight gain. When you feel a little hungry, other foods enter your stomach again, which means that undigested foods are more likely to remain in your gastrointestinal tract. 

Conversely, less frequency of eating and longer periods of time between meals can cause intestinal starvation, which can lead to an increase in base weight value.

2. How many meals a day can increase your weight the most? 

Let me explain (A) when the base weight is increased.

Based on my idea, people tend to gain weight if they skip breakfast or lunch and eat only two meals a day. However, eating two meals a day does not necessarily make everyone overweight. 

Actually, how many meals you eat a day is a matter of "meal intervals," and is only one of the "three(+one) factors” conditions that induce intestinal starvation.

Three (+one) Factors to Accelerate “Intestinal Starvation”

The most important thing is, "what to eat." But in addition, a person's digestive ability and the way they eat (eating speed, number of times they chew, and hydration during meals, etc.) also have a great impact.

For instance, even if everyone eats exactly the same food, people who can digest them faster reach the state of intestinal starvation faster. Also, even if the number of meals is the same, the time of day at which you eat also makes a difference (late lunch, late dinner, etc.).


What time you eat

Let me explain this in greater detail with some examples.  

<A co-worker who gained weight with only one meal a day>

When I was working part-time in a restaurant in college, there was a co-worker who gained almost ten kilograms since he started working. 

He ate only the meal for employees there that was served at night and nothing else, which meant that he had one meal a day. In his high school days, it seemed like he could not gain weight even though he was eating three meals a day and more calories. 

(The meals there were often a bowl of rice and a few side dishes, miso soup, etc.) 

I once tried to eat one meal a day in order to gain weight, but I was so worried about nutrition that I ended up eating many different kinds of foods at once. Also, it really stressed me out so I could not continue. 

In the end, it is "what you eat" that matters. If your diet is skewed toward carbohydrates and digestible protein, with little fiber, I think there is a great possibility that you will gain weight by eating one meal a day.

<A friend of mine who gained ten kilos by eating four to five meals a day>

A friend of mine gained more than ten kilograms by eating four to five meals a day when he was studying for a college entrance exam after he failed the first try. He belonged to a judo club in high school, and was very thin, even though he ate a lot of calories. But please note that it is not that the five meals a day that makes you fat, but what you eat and how you eat that matter

light meals

When I asked him, he told me that light meals such as sweet bread, rice balls, and cup noodles made up more than half of those meals.

If even a light meal such as pastries, hamburger, or rice balls counts as "one meal," then how many meals you eat a day does not account for the result. 

3. Can eating more often help you lose weight?

Although I cannot make an assertion based on just the number of meals, I believe that increasing the frequency of your meals is one correct way to lose weight. According to a study by Professor Saeko Imai at Osaka University in 2014, there was a change in blood sugar levels in diabetic patients depending on what time of day they ate cookies. 

Blood sugar levels

(The graph arranged based on a newspaper article)

The results of the experiment showed that eating cookies as a snack between meals kept the peak blood sugar levels lower than eating them just after a meal. 

This is an experiment with cookies, but you can substitute cookies with slightly heavier foods, like cheese, fried mushrooms in oil, or even sautéed meat.

Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that it helps you lose weight because it suppresses the rise in blood sugar.

Eating frequently to not feel hungry lead to more undigested food in the intestines, which, I believe, first reduces the absorption rate, and then in turn, blood glucose levels are less likely to rise.

4. Cause and effect can be reversed

In some cases, observational studies that examine the "association between meal frequency and being overweight" may go wrong.

For example, suppose you survey obese or overweight people and asked them how many times a day they eat. Let's assume that most of them answered four to five times. But you cannot take the aggregate results and say, “eating four or five times a day makes you gain weight.” 

The reason for this is that the most important things are missing: what you eat, and how much you eat, etc. As I said earlier, if one hamburger or one cup of noodles counts as "one meal," it makes no sense.

Second, we never know if they gained weight because they ate many times, or they ended up eating as a result of being too hungry.

Assuming that as a person’s body gets bigger, the stomach and intestines also become bigger and their digestion gets stronger, it is natural that they feel hungry faster even if they eat the same amount as others.

In other words, they may not gain weight because they eat more often, but because they are bigger, and as a result, they may end up eating more often than others. In this case, you can say that the cause and effect are reversed.

The bottom line

(1) Some experts say that, “if the total daily caloric intake is the same, it doesn't matter how many times you eat," but from my intestinal starvation theory, the number of meals definitely affects weight gain (or loss).

(2) The number of meals is a matter of "meal intervals" and is one of the "three(+one) factors," conditions that induce intestinal starvation. Although eating one or two meals a day tends to increase weight gain in the long run, the most important thing is "what you eat” and other factors also influence this.

(3) Increasing the number of meals may also help you lose weight. It is important to leave more undigested food in the intestines and to not feel hungry.

(4) Observational studies that only examine “the association between meal frequency and being overweight” are meaningless. The reverse causality may occur: some people are too hungry and as a result, eat four or five times a day.