Consuming smaller, more frequent meals is often advocated as a means of controlling body weight, but studies demonstrating a mechanistic effect of this practice on factors associated with body weight regulation are lacking. The purpose of this study was to compare the effect of consuming three (3M) vs. six meals (6M) per day on 24-h fat oxidation and subjective ratings of hunger.

Design and Methods:

Lean (body mass index <25 kg/m2) subjects (7M, 8F) were studied in a whole-room calorimeter on two occasions in a randomized cross-over design. Subjects were provided isoenergetic, energy balanced diets with a 1- to 2-week washout between conditions. Hunger, fullness, and “desire to eat” ratings were assessed throughout the day using visual analog scales and quantified as area under the curve (AUC).


There were no differences (P < 0.05) in 24-h energy expenditure (8.7 ± 0.3 vs. 8.6 ± 0.3 mj d−1), 24-h respiratory quotient (0.85 ± 0.01 vs. 0.85 ± 0.01), or 24-h fat oxidation (82 ± 6 vs. 80 ± 7 g day-1) between 3M and 6M, respectively. There was no difference in fullness 24-h AUC, but hunger AUC (41850 ± 2255 vs. 36612 ± 2556 mm.24 h, P = 0.03) and “desire to eat” AUC (47061 ± 1791 vs. 41170 ± 2574 mm.24 h, P = 0.03) were greater during 6M than 3M.


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.