What About Eating One Meal a Day?
While I use the term “2 Meals” around here for the most part, many people have asked me what about only “1 Meal” a day for weight loss?
This concept has been somewhat popular since the book Warrior Diet by Ori Hofmekler came out many years back. In it Ori talks about “under-eating” during the day and using the dinner hour as the “feast”:
Eat One Main Meal at Night:
There is evidence that humans are nocturnal eaters, inherently programmed for undereating and toiling during the day, followed by overeating and relaxing at night.
I already talked about in an old post here how many revered past civilizations full of healthy, athletic, and intelligent people only were eating enough to nourish their bodies and not having “the most important meal of the day” (well by modern standards that is).
Throughout history you can easily find that people would (and many cultures still do) use the last meal of the day as their main one. A time to relax and enjoy time with family and friends for hours. Whether they ate another meal earlier or light snacks (fruits, vegetables, figs, nuts, tubers/starches) during the day can vary.
Hershel Walker Eats 1 Meal a Day
Hershel Walker has also come out to say that he has (since he was a kid) eaten only one meal a day. Looking at what he has accomplished and even now at 50+ yrs old, that is pretty amazing.
One can speculate whether he really did this all the time (and may find forum debates with references to occasional late night fast food binges in college), but the eating pattern of one main meal at night seems to persist.
Here’s a video interview detailing his “bizarre” eating habits (and I find it humorous about him also plugging his chicken company at the end):
However when it comes to eating one meal a day, there is also another group that does it and I’m probably guessing that you are not trying to match their physique.
The Sumo Wrestler Way
Sumo wrestlers are known for eating about one main meal a day too. I find that many people will use that argument against eating only once a day and say it only leads to gaining weight.
However there is still one big variable to consider and meal frequency is not it. Sumo wrestlers also tend to eat 10,000+ calories (that is not a mistype) and drink lots of beer (as they want those big bellies for what they do).
So to say that they are overweight just because they eat once a day, doesn’t even take into account that putting in an excess amount of calories at once is not going to lead to good results.
1 vs 3 Meals a Day
Here’s an interesting study that wanted to compare the physiological effects of eating only 1 Meal/day compared to 3 Meals. Both groups were asked to eat their maintenance calorie loads (not deficit).
Each subject consumed the same amount of calories each day regardless of whether they ate one or three meals, and all subjects maintained their body weight within 2 kg of their initial weight throughout the 6 month period .
Most physiological variables measured, including heart rate, body temperature and blood chemicals, were unaffected by meal frequency; however, when on 1 meal/d, subjects exhibited: a significant reduction of fat mass, and significant increases in levels of total and LDL and HDL cholesterol .
In the present study morning glucose tolerance was impaired when subjects were consuming 1 meal/day compared to 3 meals/day. Fasting (morning) plasma glucose levels were significantly elevated in subjects when they were consuming 1 meal/d compared to 3 meals/d. The latter difference in fasting glucose levels could be explained, in part, by continuing absorption of the greater amount of food consumed in the evening in the subjects on the 1 meal/d diet.
Pretty fascinating that the 1 Meal/day group maintained their bodyweight when eating maintenance loads (like the 3 Meal/day people). They did not gain weight just by lowering the meal frequency (as I’ve pointed out in the past with studies about meal frequency and metabolism not effecting energy expenditure).
The 1 Meal a day (which was actually defined as a 4 hour window to eat daily calories before bed) seemed to also lose more fat mass.
The higher waking glucose levels are acknowledged to be most likely due to having that large (high % carbs) meal before bed and doing testing first thing in the morning. Had they done it later on, it would have painted a different picture. Also it was a condition that quickly disappeared once they went back to the 3 Meal/day pattern (so no lasting negative effect). The cholesterol level increase went unexplained as far I could find.
The Hunger Games
Many people who tell me that they did not lose weight (or gained weight) with one meal a day, most often also admit to being so hungry that they lose control at night. It becomes more a free for-all and anything is on the menu.
Using IF (intermittent fasting daily) as a pass to just eat whatever you want later, probably isn’t going to work out or be a good idea for most people.
Controlling what you eat (and therefore the calories that you intake) is also a vital component. Food choices can vary tremendously on how it impacts your body. Eating a lean cut steak with some whole food side items is not going to be the same as getting a loaded pizza and dessert.
This is why I suggest using the “2 Meals” approach, even if you decide to condense them down to a smaller window later in the day. Then you can use the first meal (especially if it is more protein based) to help curb hunger and cravings as you go into the later meal(s).
Make It Work For You
This quote from Bruce Lee sums up how one should look at any eating plan (especially IF):
“Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, Add what is uniquely your own”
It’s up to you to make it work after all. Each of us is very individualistic in our:
- daily calorie requirements
- type of activity/exercise levels
- overall recovery demands (amino acids, muscle glycogen, etc)
- current state of metabolic health
- the food choices we make (and calories too)
- daily macronutrient levels (carbs, fats, protein)
- how we deal with hunger (control and rebound eating)
- lifestyle stress issues and energy levels
So in the end I would say that using a larger window at night for the majority of eating can work, only when you can still keep calories under control in the process. I personally find it too hard to do that with only 1 meal, and opt for spreading it out over 2-3 meals in a more condensed window.
What works for you can be something different, but in the end it’s up to you to know how to adjust and make it work.
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