1 Meal vs. 3 Meals

Two collaborative studies (1,2) from the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute on Aging offer a look at the physiological effects of 3 meals versus 1 meal a day in two crossover groups. The volunteers participated in both diet plans for two eight weeks periods.

The first study analysis showed that consuming a one-meal-per-day diet, rather than a traditional three-meal-per-day diet, is feasible for a short duration. It showed that when the volunteers were ‘one-mealers,’ they had significant increases in total cholesterol, LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol and in blood pressure, compared to when they were ‘three-mealers.’ The changes in cardiovascular disease risk factors occurred despite the fact that the one-mealers saw slight decreases in their weight and fat mass in comparison to when they were three-mealers…

Further analysis of the study group showed that when the volunteers were one-mealers, they had higher morning fasting blood sugar levels, higher and more sustained elevations in blood sugar concentrations, and a delayed response to the body’s insulin, compared to when they were ‘three-mealers.’


While a lot of people caught up in our hectic culture would suggest that this is normal weekday practice, we’d suggest (and these studies do as well) that a one-meal routine isn’t the best way to go. As Mark has shared the past, grazing remains the ideal (if difficult) mode for daily fueling strategy. For most of us, three full meals a day aren’t always possible, but the body has a remarkable resiliency to carry us through on the days when it just ain’t happening. Yet, it’s still the goal. That said, there’s room and considerable benefit in shaking things up with intermittent fasting.

Mark has talked about intermittent fasting before, and it’s a subject we’ll cover more in the coming weeks. While the bag was mixed for these one-mealer folks, they took a different approach over a longer and more sustained period of time than the routine Mark has shared. A primal-influenced model of intermittent fasting (which can take various effective forms like a week or alternate days for a short period) can keep the body on its toes, so to speak, and reinvigorate the old metabolic system. Yet eight full weeks of single meals in a day would’ve been enough in most people to send the body’s systems to the board room to begin a long range downgrading plan more than short term honing strategies. Even still, it would be interesting to see a follow up on these folks a few months out.

Plenty of studies have shown that periodic fasting can offer a number of benefits like lower blood pressure, improved insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake, weight loss (we’re talking body fat) a decrease in oxidative damage and even a kick start for tissue repair. Check out Mark’s entry from last summer for links to studies and more info.

What are your experiences with intermittent fasting or caloric restriction? Hit us up with a comment!

danzden Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Mark on Intermittent Fasting

10 Ways to Cut Calories

Post Workout Fasting

Conditioning Research: Intermittent Fasting Research

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