“Why is eating one meal a day unhealthy?”
—Diego, Binghamton, New York
That’s a great question that I actually hear all the time. The answer is related to survival mechanisms that humans developed thousands of years ago, when food was scarce.
Over time, our bodies have become hardwired to go into “starvation mode” if we go too long without food. When in starvation mode, your metabolism (the processes in your body that help you make and use energy, grow, and heal) slows down in order to burn as few calories as possible and make its energy reserves last longer.
If you skip a meal, the next time you eat you’re more likely to store calories from that meal as fat tissue in your body. That’s because from your metabolism’s perspective, who knows when you’ll eat again?
Skipping meals can also cause you to feel especially hungry, leading to overindulging the next time you eat. You’re more likely to consume more calories than you need in this situation.
There are other health-related benefits of eating regularly throughout the day. A 2007 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming a controlled amount of calories divided into 3 meals per day, versus banking all calories into 1 meal per day, was associated with lower cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and an increased sense of fullness and satisfaction after a meal.
My general recommendation to keep your body and mind energized is:
- Eat every 2–4 hours when awake.
- Eat 3 balanced meals and 1–3 snacks a day.
- Enjoy whole grains, lean proteins, and plenty of fruits and vegetables.