Everything You Know About Mini-Meals Is Wrong

healthy snack

The topic of meal size versus meal frequency has not yet been exhausted. Neither has the thin or possibly nonexistent line between frequent small meals and snacks. Many authorities have opinions for or against snacking, and many researchers have garnered proof, one way or the other—a circumstance that throws into doubt the claim of “proof.” Some studies seem to indicate that eating frequent, small amounts does not make a measurable difference.

One expert suggestion for inveterate grazers is to nibble only on vegetables and fruits. The objection is the perceived high cost of fresh produce. The rebuttal to that objection was formulated by Economic Research Service researchers, who found that:

Contrary to popular perception, fruits and vegetables are comparable in price per portion to other snack foods, and both groups offer inexpensive as well as more expensive options….Americans on a 2,000-calorie diet could purchase the quantity and variety of both fruits and vegetables recommended in the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans for between $2.00 and $2.50 per day.

According to this paradigm, if once a day a person will forego a customary unhealthful snack and substitute a healthful one, daily food consumption would be reduced by an average of 126 calories, and monthly consumption by an average of 3,780 calories. Theoretically, and all other factors being equal, this small habit could result in losing one pound per month. So don’t listen to those spoilsports who say that small cumulative changes make no difference. Some big changes, like having one’s innards excised or stapled together, don’t have a very impressive track record either.

The Other Side of Mini-Meals

One example of the opposite view is a study recently published in the journal Obesity, concerning 24-hour fat oxidation and subjective hunger ratings. It compared the effect of eating three meals versus the same number of calories spread out over six meals:

We conclude that increasing meal frequency from three to six per day has no significant effect on 24-h fat oxidation, but may increase hunger and the desire to eat.

Obesity researcher Nikhil Dhurandhar of Louisiana’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center has this to say:

Eating six meals a day can work for someone who has a lot of discipline. But for others, it’s like offering an alcoholic a glass of wine six times a day. Their willpower just can’t take it.

That is the big issue for a lot of obese people. Cross-addiction seems to be the rule rather than the exception, and a person in trouble with one substance is very likely to have more than one problem substance. Even someone who has severed a relationship with alcohol or a hard drug can hit a wall with food. It is possible to keep liquor out of the home, and to stay out of bars. It is possible (in most professions) to avoid hanging out with cocaine users. But food is not only everywhere, it is inescapable, because eating is inevitable.

Actor Jeff Garlin articulated a very relevant point about 12-step programs like Overeaters Anonymous. When interviewer Marc Maron asked whether he struggles with food every day, Garlin said:

Every day. I’m an addict, man…I even go to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] meetings sometimes… Here’s the problem with OA meetings…A lot of the people at OA are very casual. They haven’t hit bottom, man. When you go to an AA meeting…nobody there is not taking it seriously.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Gobbling Up Snacks – Cause or Potential Cure for Childhood Obesity?,” umn.edu, December 2012
Source: “6 Weight Loss Myths Debunked,” Yahoo.com, 07/02/13
Source: “Episode 567 – Jeff Garlin,” Wtfpod.com, 01/12/15
Image by Kevin

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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