A new study by the University of Ohio, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, has revealed that small meals do not result in fat accumulation. On the other hand skipping meals can result in abdominal weight gain based on insulin resistance. When the liver doesn’t respond to insulin signals to stop producing glucose, the extra sugar in the blood is stored as fat. An excess of that kind of fat is associated with insulin resistance and risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
The researchers used mice models and one group of mice was placed on a restricted diet for three days compared to a control group which had unrestricted access to food. The mice who were subjected to a restricted-diet regained weight as calories were added back into their diets, resulting in obesity. The control mice on the other hand did not accumulate belly fat. Mice on the restrictive diet developing binge eating habits.
“This does support the notion that small meals throughout the day can be helpful for weight loss, though that may not be practical for many people,” said Martha Belury, professor of human nutrition at The Ohio State University and senior author of the study. “But you definitely don’t want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss.” “With the mice, this is basically binging and then fasting,” Belury said. “People don’t necessarily do that over a 24-hour period, but some people do eat just one large meal a day.”
The binging and fasting resulted in an alteration to the body’s metabolism, that the researchers attributed to a spike and then severe drop in insulin production. The changes were attributed to elevations in inflammation, higher activation of genes that promote storage of fatty molecules and plumper fat cells compared to the control group.
“Under conditions when the liver is not stimulated by insulin, increased glucose output from the liver means the liver isn’t responding to signals telling it to shut down glucose production,” Belury said. “These mice don’t have type 2 diabetes yet, but they’re not responding to insulin anymore and that state of insulin resistance is referred to as prediabetes.”
“Even though the gorging and fasting mice had about the same body weights as control mice, their adipose depots were heavier. If you’re pumping out more sugar into the blood, adipose is happy to pick up glucose and store it. That makes for a happy fat cell — but it’s not the one you want to have. We want to shrink these cells to reduce fat tissue,” Belury said.
Kara L. Kliewer, Jia-Yu Ke, Hui-Young Lee, Michael B. Stout, Rachel M. Cole, Varman T. Samuel, Gerald I. Shulman, Martha A. Belury. Short-term food restriction followed by controlled refeeding promotes gorging behavior, enhances fat deposition, and diminishes insulin sensitivity in mice. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, 2015; DOI: 10.1016/j.jnutbio.2015.01.010