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Calories and meal frequencies effect over inflamtion and cellular stress.

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created January 22, 2012 at 7:37 PM

Stephan Guyanet and Chris Kresser talked a bit, on Chris' podcast about excess caloric intake can be stressful on cells and can have an inflammatory effect regardless of food quality. They also mentioned how the opposite (a caloric restriction) will have an anti-inflammatory effect. I think this is generally a well accepted concept.

My question, however, is what the differences might be, if any, between consuming your daily calories in 1 to 2 large meals versus multiple smaller meals if the total caloric intake is the same in both scenarios. For example, if one consumed 1,500 calories daily, it is probably likely there would be a calorie deficit and that the lower number of calories and roughage to be broken down and assimilated by digestion would lower stress and inflammation. However, would there be any difference on cellular stress, digestive health, and inflammation if that food was taken in, say, all at once, daily at dinner? Or would inflammation be lower by consuming three or four smaller meals throughout the day?

I am not one to put a ton of value on caloric intake. I tend to value food quality much more for balancing hormones and ideal gene signaling but I'm curious about caloric intakes effect on inflammation. I IBS and at times I will feel much better doing 1-2 meals a day but then at others I will feel far too bloated after such a large dinner and will do better with smaller meals throughout the day.

On the one hand, I feel that more frequent meals would keep cortisol levels lower, and would limit the acute stress on digestion of a very large daily meal. Where as with 1-2 larger meals you will benefit from giving the digestion system 16-24 hours of rest in between meals and you gain all the benefits of intermittent fasting. Has anyone looked into this before or seen any studies comparing the two situations? Would love any help.

Cheers, -Nick

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on January 22, 2012
at 10:10 PM

You might enjoy reading some basic articles about our digestion--basic mechanics. I did that recently and found it fascinating. To answer your question, though, IMO the difference between large meals and small, frequent meals is in how you react mentally not just physically.

For example, I can see where inflammation might make a difference but I haven't seen any studies about that angle. I do know I don't constantly use a sore wrist so I can't assume eating frequently would automatically be better.

Using myself as my favorite test subject, I already know that the more often I eat the more I want to eat. Eating small meals leaves me dissatisfied and is a sure track to a binge at some point in the future. Large meals of healthy foods leave me happy and satisfied for surprisingly long time periods.

I am one who enjoys IF and I tend to eat large meals. It's clear from what I read about digestion that while I may eat a large meal in a fairly short time, the food will leave my stomach gradually and not in one large batch. High-liquid foods/beverages will spread out in the intestine after leaving the stomach so the absorption area is larger than you might think. That helped explain why I need to pee so soon after drinking coffee or water kefir. :-))

I'm not talking about a binge or a massive meal here, just a normal "fill me up for 6-24 hours" meal. In my case, that's usually fruit and/or salad followed by cooked broth/veggies and/or meat. My particular GI tract seems happier when I start with the least dense foods and work toward the most dense. It also seems to get calmer and more comfortable with long periods between meals.

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