Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis

Nutr Rev. 2015 Feb;73(2):69-82. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuu017.


It has been hypothesized that eating small, frequent meals enhances fat loss and helps to achieve better weight maintenance. Several observational studies lend support to this hypothesis, with an inverse relationship noted between the frequency of eating and adiposity. The purpose of this narrative review is to present and discuss a meta-analysis with regression that evaluated experimental research on meal frequency with respect to changes in fat mass and lean mass. A total of 15 studies were identified that investigated meal frequency in accordance with the criteria outlined. Feeding frequency was positively associated with reductions in fat mass and body fat percentage as well as an increase in fat-free mass. However, sensitivity analysis of the data showed that the positive findings were the product of a single study, casting doubt as to whether more frequent meals confer beneficial effects on body composition. In conclusion, although the initial results of this meta-analysis suggest a potential benefit of increased feeding frequencies for enhancing body composition, these findings need to be interpreted with circumspection.

Keywords: adiposity; body composition; eating; meal frequency; meta-analysis; weight management.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity / physiology
  • Body Composition / physiology*
  • Body Weight / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Meals*
  • Obesity / diet therapy
  • Time Factors
  • Weight Loss / physiology*