Career Testing
Career Testing
Career Testing
FOOD & FITNESS / APR. 03, 2014
version 7, draft 7

Weight Watching at Work: Only Calories Count -"Small & Often" is Dangerous, Study Finds

As the sun starts to shine again, many start to panic at the prospect of being too snug in a swimsuit in the not-too-distant future holiday period. Diets become a hot topic in the office kitchen as we try and fathom how to shift the pounds that have been gained over the dreary winter months.

Christmas overeating, commuting during dark mornings and darker nights, together with not feeling up to a run after work because its plain nasty outside, all lead to a natural blooming.  

Office dieting

We try diets in the office - secretly ditching the donuts alone, or all trying a diet together in one big hungry group. Currently in my office, a good 10% are on the infamous 5:2 diet (or Fast Diet) - 5 days you eat what you like, and 2 days you nibble select items under 500/600 calories.  

Diets and eating regimes can look at first to be harmless, but there can be real risks to our health when changing our eating plans drastically. According to new research, it is only ever calories consumed that make a difference to our weight - nothing else matters.  

Calories count

Counting calories – not adjusting our meals to just “small and often” – is the only important factor in weight loss, according to a new study by the Society for Endocrinology. 

The research shows that following a pattern of eating small yet frequent meals will not boost metabolism or encourage weight loss. It is only calories that count. 

Conversely, eating single high fat meals can have a negative impact upon health, increasing the risk of developing type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. An increase in endotoxins – fragments of gut bacteria – enter the blood system after eating a single high fat meal, causing a low level inflammation in the body. 

This type of inflammation has been linked with a future risk of developing type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. 

"Little and often" can be dangerous

Warwick scientists investigated the effects of eating little and often to prove if this eating habit would increase the potential of developing type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease in obese patients. 

24 lean women and 24 obese women were selected to participate in the food trials. The trial involved women receiving two meals on one day and five smaller meals on the next day. 

The results showed that the women consumed the same number of calories on both days. Energy expenditure was monitored using whole body monitor calorimeters. 

Calorie wise, regardless of the number of meals that were consumed, both the lean and obese women were seen to burn the same number of calories over a 24 hour period. 

Effect on health

The obese women in the group showed significantly higher levels of endotoxins after eating five meals, compared to when they only had two. This proves that, in obese adults, eating “small and often” not only has little impact on weight loss, but can ultimately prove detrimental to overall health. 

Lead author of the study Dr Milan Kumar Piya commented, 

"Our studies have identified two main findings; firstly that the size or frequency of the meal doesn’t affect the calories we burn in a day, but what matters most for losing weight is counting calories. Secondly, by carrying more weight, more endotoxin enters the circulation to cause inflammation and eating more often will exacerbate this risk which has been linked to metabolic diseases such as type-2 diabetes.” 

The researchers hope to continue their studies by exploring the impact of diet, gut flora and how calories burned in different people. 

"By understanding how diet affects inflammatory risk and energy expenditure, we will further our understanding of how we can better target diet intervention on an individual basis,” added DrPiya. 

According to the BBC, the number of obese people in the developing world has quadrupled in the last thirty years – one in three people worldwide are now classed as overweight. 

BBC report 64% overweight

In the UK alone, 64% of adults are classed as being overweight or obese. The report predicts a “huge increase” in heart attacks, strokes and diabetes.

With obesity on the agenda, many follow diets – some faddy or ineffective – but the research at Warwick shows that the “small and often” diet often recommended in weight loss is not just ineffectual, but potentially dangerous to those who are already carrying additional weight. 

So, if you are considering dieting a work, do it safely and just cut your calories a little and up your exercise level a bit. Try not to jump on the next diet bandwagon - science shows us it's not completely safe.  


Warwick study: Meal size and frequency influences metabolic endotoxaemia and inflammatory risk but has no effect on diet induced thermogenesis in either lean or obese subjects 

BBC: Obesity quadruples to nearly one billion in developing world


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