Graze or Gorge?

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Eating several small meals throughout the day, rather than three larger ones — sometimes referred to as grazing — has often been touted as a way to lose weight. In theory, eating in a way that results in a steadier stream of nutrients in the bloodstream could have several positive effects. Past studies have, in fact, found that grazing can lead to lower levels of insulin in people without diabetes as well as lower blood levels of cholesterol. But when it comes to weight loss in people with diabetes, a new study suggests than grazing may not be all that it’s cracked up to be.

The study, presented at the American Diabetes Association’s Scientific Sessions late last month in Chicago, looked at 54 adults with Type 2 diabetes over 12 weeks. According to an article at NBC News (the study is not yet published), each participant was assigned to a meal plan that cut his or her daily caloric intake by 500 calories. Some participants, though, had this food spread over six small meals, while others received only two larger meals each day: breakfast and lunch. At the end of the 12 weeks, both groups had lost weight. But the two-meal group had lost more weight than the six-meal group, as measured by body-mass index (BMI). While the average drop in BMI in the two-meal group was 1.23 points, it was only 0.82 points in the six-meal group.

Of course, weight loss achieved within the controlled setting of a study does not always translate into weight loss in real life. As the NBC article notes, many people may feel unable to skip dinner due to either hunger or social pressure. It is not known, of course, whether the benefit seen in the study from two meals could be achieved with three meals, or by shifting the timing of the two meals to include either breakfast or lunch and dinner. (As we noted in a previous Diabetes Flashpoints post, the timing of meals can have a significant effect on the metabolism of some people.) Another practical concern for the real world is that grazing may be more difficult to monitor or control than preplanned meals. If portions are as small as a handful of nuts, it may be easy to add extra portions throughout the day that may be insignificant individually, but add up to many extra calories.

Have you tried grazing in an attempt to lose weight? If so, was the strategy successful? Did you notice any other benefits, such as better blood glucose control, that might make grazing worthwhile even without weight loss? On the other side, have you tried eating only two meals a day to lose weight? Do you think this kind of schedule would be sustainable for you, or is it just as feasible to adjust to two meals as to six? Leave a comment below!

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