Sep 29, 2021
The human body is an amazing machine and has evolved over thousands of years to be able to do things we never even thought it possible. One thing that makes our bodies so unique is that from the moment we are conceived until the day we die, every single cell in our body regenerates. This means that if your body can handle it, you really only need to eat once a day because your cells have already been replaced by new ones providing you don't injure or damage them beyond repair.
There has been much debate as to whether people should eat several smaller meals throughout the day or simply graze on many small snacks throughout the course of a day's time. Although some experts maintain their opinion that grazing is better for maintaining a healthy body, most research actually shows that a once a day meal schedule is best for sustained energy levels and a healthy heart.
If you eat one large meal or several smaller meals it matters not as long as you have eaten within the last six hours. Anything longer than this time frame will cause your metabolism to slow down which can lead to poor concentration, fatigue, and weight gain. The reason your metabolism slows down when you don't eat is because your insulin levels begin to rise in order to prepare for digestion of food. One study showed that those who ate two large meals had 27% more insulin in their blood stream than those who ate six small meals throughout the day
Another factor involved with eating every few hours is muscle preservation. Muscles are 70% protein and when we don't eat they begin to break down in order to be able to use their contents for energy. A study done in 1983 showed that those who ate less than three times a day had increased muscle wasting.
One major factor that separates us from other animals is our ability of being able to go long periods without food while performing strenuous tasks. An experiment was conducted on the Tarahumara Indians, a group of people indigenous to Mexico famous for running vast distances over rough terrains, where runners were sent out with no food or water and told not to come back until they found both. On average these men ran 36 miles before locating food and water
In another test conducted by scientists at the United States army's research center in Natick, Mass., soldiers were placed on restricted calorie intake for a week and then told to go out on runs. On average these men ran marathons before they became exhausted, proving that even when deprived of food your body can run almost perfectly as long as you provide it with enough water.
After digging into the research of both sides of this argument I am pleased to say that I have come to my conclusion. Although some studies show that smaller meals throughout the day help burn calories more efficiently, keep you fuller longer, and give you more energy than one large meal; others show that if you eat nothing all day your metabolism won't slow down until after six hours and you should be able to perform at a high level until you come across food. So if your argument is which will give me more energy and help burn calories faster, then grazing throughout the day may be the better option for you; but if your goal is to increase longevity and sustain as much energy as possible doing one large meal a day would be best for you.
Beyond physical health there has been research that shows eating only once a day can aid in spiritual enlightenment as well. In several Buddhist monasteries monks meditate for hours without eating or drinking anything other than water and still experience no decrease in brain function. This shows us that we really don't need much sustenance to maintain optimum health and also allows us to focus our energy on the task at hand rather than micro-managing our bodily functions.
One of the most important things to remember about eating smaller meals throughout the day is not what you eat but how much of it. If your goal is to lose weight then you should still only eat until you are comfortably full and simply eat your usual diet in smaller portions. The reason people tend to gain weight by grazing is because they start off with healthy options like nuts, yogurt, or fruit but end up snacking on many more unhealthy foods throughout the course of the day as well.
Now that I've come down on one side of this argument hopefully some people will find their answer. It doesn't matter if you choose to do one large meal or several smaller ones throughout the day as long as you are making healthy choices. The point is to find what will work best for your lifestyle and whatever that may be don't go back on it.
There have been many studies done over the past century but only a few have chosen to focus on how meal frequency can affect our health rather than simply weight loss. One study in particular compared five men who ate three large meals a day to five men who ate six small meals a day, all with varying amounts of protein, carbohydrate, fat, sugar, sodium, cholesterol intake over an eight-week period. On average those who had eaten smaller meals every few hours lost more weight and saw better lipid profiles which lowered their risk of developing coronary heart disease; however, their insulin levels were much higher. So although they may have seen better lipids in the short term it is difficult to say what affect this would have on their health long-term.
It can be hard to decide whether or not you should eat several small meals throughout the day but when it comes down to it there are many different factors that need to be taken into consideration. If your main concern is losing weight then our society's traditional three large meals could work best for you; if your goal is maximizing energy and focus then eating one large meal a day might fit your lifestyle more than small snacks throughout the day do. This doesn't mean that if you want to snack during the afternoon at work that you should continue, only that these are things to take into account when deciding how often and what times of day you will consume your meals.
If the idea of eating several small meals throughout the day sounds like a great plan for you there really isn't anything wrong with it; however, I would recommend making sure most of those meals include fruits and vegetables as well as whole grains to make them healthier. The primary reason why most people eat multiple small meals is because they help us with portion control which can be helpful if we have trouble stopping ourselves from eating too much overall. But many people don't realize that if they are overeating throughout the entire day their body doesn't know the difference between three huge meals or six small ones and will react the same either way.
Overall it comes down to personal preference: do you want to eat three larger meals a day or six smaller meals? It may benefit some people more than others so try out both options and see which fits your lifestyle better. There is no reason why you shouldn't be able to stick with whatever option you choose but if it becomes too difficult go back to the other one. As long as you are making good choices about what types of foods end up in your meal then there isn't really a wrong answer when it comes down to how often you eat.
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