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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 14, 2008

1 Meal vs. 3 Meals

By Worker Bee
63 Comments

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.’

via USDA ARS

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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63 Comments on "1 Meal vs. 3 Meals"

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Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago
I’m very familiar with that Mattson study and here’s my thoughts on it: – subjects either ate a whole days worth of calories in 3 meals or 1 meal for 8 weeks – The cal intake was high, and VERY high in carbs (esp for the 1 meal people as they needed the calories in one setting…so carbs are the answer) – Essentially shouldn’t shock anyone that eating a “carb bomb” once a day for 8 straight weeks is not the magic way to better health. This got alot of talk especially with the recent interview and post by Dr… Read more »
josh
3 months 20 days ago

Mikey, you hit the nail on the head man. You are absolutely right – on the study and as for “eating crap” on IF. It don’t work. I have done it both ways, much longer than 8 weeks at a time. We are all different, but if you don’t control your carbs on IF, you won’t see great results. Keto/low-carb on IF works best, it has for me.

Steve M.
Steve M.
8 years 6 months ago
Mark, I’ve been on an IF Condensed Eating Window program (www.fast-5.com) since the beginning of the year, and have lost over twenty pounds and inches around my waist without any undue problems. The key, as MIke points out, is to eat clean (meats, vegetables, fruit, avoid starches, sugar, grains) and eat two to three times within a condensed window. I normally eat between 5pm and 10pm, If I need to eat earlier in the day, such as for a social or business occasion, I can do that once or twice a week, and then just limit my eating the rest… Read more »
Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago

oh if you want some more CR/IF research studies, I got like 20 or so listed here (there are so many more…but after a while they all start to say the same thing)

http://projectfit.org/iflifeblog/resources/

Keenan
8 years 6 months ago
I’m agree with both above posters about an eating *window* being more important than eating one meal per day. I do daily fasting for 16 hours and eat within an 8 hour window, with an occasional 24 hours fast/24 hours feast once every couple of weeks. I feel sharper, stronger, quicker, and this style of IF is by far my favorite method of eating. Eating a day’s worth of calories in one meal (especially if you are lifting weights or physically active and thus requiring 2500+ calories) is going to cause some problems which will be further exacerbated by binging… Read more »
Ryan Denner
8 years 6 months ago

I usually do a 24 hour fast once every year. As long as I haven’t done heavy working out/training loads the few days leading up to it, it really isn’t bad or hard at all.

I will also say that I feel GREAT afterwards – almost to the point where I have considering continuing for another 12 hours. People usually think I’m weird, but those who have done it ‘get it’ and agree with me.

Sasquatch
8 years 6 months ago

I don’t think “grazing” is a good idea. It’s the American eating pattern, and we have serious problems with overweight. In parts of Europe, people don’t snack, and they stay thin despite a high carb intake. It’s not the only lifestyle difference of course, but I think it contributes.

I agree that “IFOC” is not the way to go.

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago

Of course my idea of grazing is a lb of meat! 🙂

Steve
5 years 8 months ago

In your experience, eating three large meals seems to work better than 5-6? I’ve always had around 6-8 meals/shakes a day. T’ve been eating like this for 11 years now and its become a burden, So getting in around 200 grams of protein over 3 meals and maybe a snack or two is just as effective than spreding it out over 5 plus meals?

Mark Sisson
8 years 6 months ago
I need to be clear about my take on grazing. I am NOT an advocate of 4-6 small meals a day. It’s just too much work. I like meals spread out more, occasionally skipped, occasionally large. On the other hand, I do “graze” at home a lot (because that’s where the refrigerator is). If I find myself particularly hungry, I grab a handful of nuts or a bunch of cherries. Other times I am happy to look up and see that it’s 2 PM and I haven’t eaten anything yet for the day. None of it is a big deal… Read more »
Steve
5 years 8 months ago

Mark,
n your experience, eating three large meals seems to work better than 5-6? I’ve always had around 6-8 meals/shakes a day. T’ve been eating like this for 11 years now and its become a burden, So getting in around 200 grams of protein over 3 meals and maybe a snack or two is just as effective than spreding it out over 5 plus meals?

Jo-Anne
Jo-Anne
4 years 5 months ago

DITTO…..

Neal W.
Neal W.
8 years 6 months ago

The above posters, special shout out to Mike OD, pretty much kicked the crap out of this IF study.

I agree, IF on crap = crap.

Personally, I just eat when I’m hungry, and don’t eat when I’m not. Most often that has me eating for the first time in the late afternoon, but maybe 6-8 times per month it has me eating breakfast.

Matt Metzgar
8 years 6 months ago

I’m skeptical of this study for reasons already pointed out. From what I’ve read, hunter-gatherers ate once or twice a day, so it’s hard for me to believe that more meals is somehow better. There’s also some research that connects higher meal frequency to colon cancer.

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago
What up Neil W! Yeah that study is useless except to stop people from thinking that IF means eating a whole pizza every night for 8 weeks is the ideal way to get fit and healthy. Ummmmm…..No. In the whole grazzing thing…I probably eat only 3 meals a day….in a shorter window for the most part. But like Neil said…it varies as somedays I will have breakfast…or not. But I like the flexibility and total randomness. Downfall of IF is there is no just one definition of what it is or can be…as everyone makes it different….that also, makes it… Read more »
Mark Sisson
8 years 6 months ago

Mike OD,

That kind of gets us back to the basics. If you can control yourself and eat what we here all consider healthy, then it really doesn’t matter when or how much you eat or not. It’s Art DeV’s fractal, random, intermittent, sporadic, acute, once-in-a-whiley eating system. Pick the right foods, do a little of the right exercises and it all works well 🙂

Scott Kustes
8 years 6 months ago

Nice comment MOD. I’ve had nothing but success with a properly implemented IF, using Paleo foods as the fuel. I like the multiple meals in a smaller window approach, but it’s also important to listen to the body and eat when it says to eat. Having been IFing off and on (mostly “on”, in different incarnations) for several years, I’ve learned to distinguish true hunger from “there’s food available” hunger.

Here’s my success story for those wanting additional information.

Cheers
Scott Kustes
Modern Forager

Mike OD - IF Life
8 years 6 months ago

Funny how the basics always work best….but we now need decades of research just to prove it to us. The healthiest people in the world are probably just living a natural life in response to nature’s demands in pure ignorance about all the technical stuff we debate about every day. Oh the simple life….why did we mess up a good thing??

Angie
8 years 6 months ago

We all want to loose our weight and we can do efforts to any limit but our efforts should pay us. It can only happen when we have a good idea to loose our weight. We can find a lot many ideas on the internet which are really helpful to us.

Chris
8 years 6 months ago
There was a good comment on the Mattson study on the yahoo fasting group: http://tech.groups.yahoo.com/group/fasting/message/3191 I’ll quote: What is not appreciated (and is not in the abstract) is that the subjects in this study were required to eat MORE than they wanted and its likely that this skewed the results. Here’s a quote from the last paragraph in the full paper: //**************************************************************** Our findings show that consumption of one unusually large meal per day worsens morning glucose tolerance compared with an isocaloric diet spread across 3 meals. However, when on 1 meal per day, the subjects would have eaten less… Read more »
Huckleberry
8 years 6 months ago
In that study you mentioned, I’d be interested to know what kind of diets the people were eating while they ate three meals vs one meal per day. I imagine a lot of the ill health effects they associate with the one meal group are more likely to happen within a high-carb, typical Western diet than a high protein/high fat diet. That said, I don’t think a consistent one meal a day is enough, intermittent fasting aside. Plus there are simply too many delicious things out there to eat to have only one meal per day. I think probably a… Read more »
Cynthia
Cynthia
8 years 6 months ago
Well, I’ve been doing what I like to call IIF (Intermittent Intermittent Fasting) for about five months now. I eat *normally* during the week and on weekends I fast for 16-20 hours and then eat a couple of meals within a window. I eat low carb within that framework and it’s been pretty successful for me, really helping me with taking off a significant amount of weight. Before that I was doing low carb, but was eating five to six small meals a day. As you said, Mark, that’s just not all that feasible when you work in an office… Read more »
Greg Davis
8 years 6 months ago
I can totally relate to problems with gorging tendencies. This has been a bit of a struggle for me too, but I think one of the “last steps” to getting this whole paleo/IF thing. Particular the way devany’s EF model is described. Notice how he has repeatedly emphasized gorgeing goes against the tenets of the EF way. What I’ve had to do (which I was so hesistant to do based on how I felt it was not in line with a paleo experience) is break my meals down to relatively small portions. A really big meal, paleo or not, is… Read more »
John B
8 years 6 months ago
I’ve reviewed both papers cited above. In the second paper that states morning glucose tolerance was worsened. If you analyze the paper itself you will find that this result only happens within the first hour of the test, by the 2 hour point the glucose tolerance of one meal per day vs two meals per day were the same. In the other study, cardivascular end points such as LDL, HDL, total cholesterol, systolic blood pressure, and cortisol were measured. The actualy data shows that LDL AND HDL went up so these effects are cancelling. The reported increase in systolic blood… Read more »
Grok
7 years 1 month ago

John knows how to read a research paper.

I follow a one meal a day plan a lot of the time. This summer I strayed quite a bit, sometimes eating every few hours. The warm weather makes me want to eat more.

Of course this isn’t scientific by any means… but it would make sense to me biologically, since fresh food is generally much more abundant in the summer and would be a good time to load up and store fat for the more scarce winter months.

Chris
8 years 6 months ago

John B – great comment. Thanks for that.

Chris

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[…] the great discussion last week following the 1 Meal vs. 3 Meals news post, we thought it was a great opportunity to follow up and delve into the nitty gritty of […]

Jay Ferguson
8 years 3 days ago

I had to have my thyroid removed through radioactive iodine a few years back. Messed up my whole metabolism. Gained at least 50 lbs. Am going to try the one meal a day right now. See how that goes. Been on a variety of diets, but if I don’t stop the food from entering in the first place, it can’t do anything. My schedule doesn’t allow the 6 meal, eat a fruit type diet. And with the solid protein diet, I think I developed ‘roids.

will
will
7 years 8 months ago

I fast every third or fourth day for about 23 hours–roughly between 10 pm and 9 pm. I spent an active day at the beach recently–walked for miles, sprints, squatjumps, leaps, broad jumps, lifting and carrying driftwood, and totally forgot I was fasting until driving home in the evening. Have tried many other fasting schedules, but prefer this one. I may also start skipping meals, if not hungry, for more intermittence.

preston
preston
7 years 8 months ago

Everyone here who is interested needs to check out “The Warrior Diet”. There is a science behind one meal a day, and it’s pretty convincing.

Also, stop by this forum and ask some of the warrior dieters how there health is. There are plenty of people who have increased their health greatly with this one meal a day plan.

http://www.defensenutrition.com/forum/

Dave
7 years 7 months ago
I started using I.F first day of the new year. I have been documenting my own findings on my blog. In just over 6 weeks of doing IF, I have found it very easy to follow. 2 fasts per week had become very easy. As of this week I am experimenting with eating one meal on an evening, during the week. I am starting with with fast after my evening meal on a Sunday, and breaking that fast the next evening. Weekends ( from Friday evening) I will eat normally. This fits in well with social gatherings. I should explain… Read more »
Justin S
Justin S
6 years 11 months ago

Thanks everyone for tearing down that study. IF is something I’m very interested in and that study went against everything else I have read. Your comments were fun to read. Especially Mike OD.

John
John
6 years 7 months ago
One meal a day was normal throughout history with increased meals occuring more often as social events. Breakfast didn’t exist in Europe as the Catholic church didn’t approve of it throughout the Middle Ages. One meal a day is not a stone age diet but was practiced until recent centuries. Cooking was a major ordeal left until evening and food was rarely eaten raw for fear of infection. One meal a day was certainly normal in Ireland until the Tudor conquest according to this account by Francisco de Cuellar, a survivor of the Spanish Armada, ‘The men are all large… Read more »
Carlos Guillaume
Carlos Guillaume
5 years 5 months ago
I am on 1meal diet for 2 weeks now. I have lost 6 pounds, although I have all the food I want in my meal. I follow some basic rules: I always start the meal with proteins and fat, and leave the carbs (fruits and vegs) to latter. Sometimes I just have 2 regular meals in a 3 hour time. The reason I chose to have lunch meal instead of dinner is because of the time of exercises (mainly 1h walking, eventually sprinting), which I do not so regularly before lunch, under the sun. My energy levels and mood are… Read more »
trackback

[…] For the last 10 days, a typical protein consumption day for me, has been around 200 grams. From my readings and discussions my daily protein range should be in the 120-140 gram range. I have had difficulty achieving that range…until YESTERDAY.  I employed a very primal tactic… Intermittent Fasting. (it involves skipping a meal, two or three.) […]

trackback

[…] For the last 10 days, a typical protein consumption day for me, has been around 200 grams. From my readings and discussions my daily protein range should be in the 120-140 gram range. I have had difficulty achieving that range…until YESTERDAY.  I employed a very primal tactic… Intermittent Fasting. (it involves skipping a meal, two or three.) […]

trackback

[…] the end, the prudent path is to simply listen to your body. Don’t let CW grazing propaganda drive you to eat when you aren’t hungry; don’t let the IF dogma make you feel guilty […]

Eric B
5 years 4 months ago

I’ve been eating 1 vegetarian meal per day since 1998. No snacking or grazing. I’d never go back. In addition to that I’ve been fasting once per week (48 hours only fluids). My immune system is extremely strong and we save lots of money. I work out almost every day, with heavy workouts 3 times per week (sometimes on fasting days). Folks always look at me like I’m crazy. But almost all of them are obese and/or suffer from chronic ailments. Try it. You’ll like it.

primalwalker
primalwalker
5 years 4 months ago

Eric,

That comes out to something like only five meals per week, 4200 cal per meal. That is amazing!

Eric B
5 years 4 months ago

You know I never counted what I get on average. But it’s a pretty big meal. The wife and I take about an hour to eat. We definitely take our time.

Anna and Donald Gordon
5 years 2 months ago

Interesting study as I have heard the 4-6 small meals a day advocated as a sound way to lose and maintain weight loss by several members in our travel club. I would add a caution, to check with your doctor before implementing any diet regimen or change in normal eating habits.

Robert
Robert
5 years 2 months ago

Ask yourselves this. How do the healthiest, longest-lived cultures in today’s world eat? What do they eat and how often do they eat? None of them eat a single meal per day and none of them eat a low-carb diet.

Eric B
5 years 2 months ago

How many of them use automobiles and sit on their bottoms all day?

Robert
Robert
5 years 2 months ago

Probably none! They are active which is what *everybody* should be doing *regardless* of diet. So did you have a point?

trackback
5 years 1 month ago

[…] are many different opinions on snacking/grazing and/or having 3 square meals a day. From what I briefly read, it’s not about how frequently you eat but how many calories you […]

bobsmith
bobsmith
5 years 1 month ago

I do IMOC, and am in perfect health. That said, anecdotal evidence is generally rather worthless.

Casey Klint
Casey Klint
5 years 21 days ago
I have been eating one meal per day for about 3 months and it is working very well for me. I have more energy and feel better physically than I ever have before. I have unintentionally lost weight and inches from my waist. I used to wear size 36 pants and have gone down to size 32. I have gotten to a point where my weight remains fairly constant. For my one meal I do not eat anywhere near a 2000-calorie diet. I eat about half or less than half of that. Also, I am vegetarian and I almost never… Read more »
Arty
Arty
4 years 11 months ago

When I eat a large meal I get bloated for hours, pain in my abdomen and feel really exhausted/tired afterwards.
I do best on 2 small meals a day with a couple of snacks inbetween, maybe a fruit or a couple jerky strips.

I can maintain my body weight with 2500 calories a day…but actually feel and perform better when carbs are reduced and meals are considered small (for american standards) and consist of lots of blubber, and calories drop below 2000 for the entire day.

John
John
4 years 9 months ago

I have been on a almost 1 meal diet for 3-4 years. I am in Great Health. As far as I am concern, it is what you are eating.

Tc
Tc
4 years 7 months ago

Herschel Walker, Greg Plitt by far the best looking individuals I’ve ever seen and both eat one meal per day… Btw when I’m in a crunch to get my 6 pack showing I just eat 1 meal per day,I DON’T go low carb because Humans were designed to run on high carb, I prefer to keep my thyroid running the way it should. Oh and how could something that scorches the fat off someone increase bad cholesterol? That study if off… Most likely to promote the
multi meal per day feeding epidemic

Robert
Robert
4 years 5 months ago
The 5-6 meal per day method does accomplish one thing at least. It makes one think of food all day. In human history, the three meal (or more) per day concept is relatively recent. We commonly ate two meals per day and you don’t even have to go back to Paleolithic or even Neolithic times to see that behaviour. I now do two meals per day plus a small snack in the evening. The only time I do a single meal in a day is if I’m eating out, which is typically once a week. The two meal method worked… Read more »
revelo
revelo
4 years 4 months ago
I don’t care what the study shows. Eating once a day is the only way I can keep my weight down over the long term. With the once a day plan, I feel no hunger all morning and afternoon, then I eat a huge meal somewhere between 3pm and 5pm, then I feel a small amount of hunger as this meal digests, say from 6pm to 9pm, but willpower can overcome that mild hunger. My body acts like the old saying: “eating restores the appetite”. The fewer times a day I eat, the fewer times appetite is awakened, which means… Read more »
Shana
Shana
4 years 3 months ago

I have been eating one meal a day for nearly 5 months now, weight loss has been slow and gradual. I started off at 165lbs and 5’5. And now I am at 140lbs. It has turned into normal routine for me now. Calories vary based on my physical activity, no binging. Blood work has been normal.

Gina
Gina
3 years 10 months ago
Eating 1 big meal per day, for dinner, is the ONLY way I can lose weight. I eat a 250 calorie breakfast, 300 for lunch, and 950 for dinner. I did this the first time and lost 15 lb. Now I do it once or twice per year, for 5-7 weeks (5-7 lb), to maintain my weight and re-set habits. The 3-6 more-even meals diet makes me hungry all day, and I can’t sleep at night from hunger. I count minutes until the next meal, and since it’s hard to prepare good, little meals, I eat more junk food. The… Read more »
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[…] the great discussion last week following the 1 Meal vs. 3 Meals news post, we thought it was a great opportunity to follow up and delve into the nitty gritty of […]

B-case
B-case
3 years 8 months ago
Don’t agree. Try eating a huge breakfast of your favorite proteins, fats and carbs/vegs. Obviously not to stuff yourself but if you haven’t eaten since the previous afternoon, you will be able to tolerate a pretty big breakfast (or dinner if that’s your preference). You should be satisfied and full for the next 12-14 hours, with maybe a snack meal to round out the day. Trouble is, if you pick dinner as your meal, sleeping is part of that window opportunity. There’s no empirical evidence (nor will there ever be) that eating any which way is bad for this, that… Read more »
guilewolf
guilewolf
3 years 4 months ago
I hate to say this but its funny me and many many others have been doing one meal a day for a long time matter of fact I was homeless for a long time and ate just once a day because soup kitchens we only open once a day and guess what I was in the best shape of my life and as I donated plasma for money my blood work was checked on a regular bases and was super clean not a single issue SO I hate to cry conspiracy with these scientist but facts are facts I am… Read more »
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[…] the great discussion last week following the 1 Meal vs. 3 Meals news post, we thought it was a great opportunity to follow up and delve into the nitty gritty of […]

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[…] on your shoulders. If you're just eating once a day, this can have negative effects on your body. 1 Meal vs. 3 Meals | Mark's Daily Apple You probably take your meds at regularly scheduled times. Start thinking of food as medicine and […]

Margaret
2 years 7 months ago

I’m doing a bit of a trial of eating just one meal a day – it’s going ok, but I do tend to get really hungry in the daytimes. It doesn’t bother me too much though. Thanks for this post!

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