‘I could never do that.’
‘I need to eat as soon as I wake up.’
‘I get irritable and upset when I’m hungry.’
These are the most common responses I hear when folks ask me why I only drink black coffee for breakfast and the truth is, I felt that same way 4 or 5 years ago. I ‘needed’ to eat frequent meals throughout the day in order to ‘ramp up my metabolism’ and ‘keep my blood sugar balanced’ aka stave off being hangryyy as fuck.
I ate 5+ meals per day for years until I got to a point where eating and cooking just become a bit of a chore. While I was eating a meal I was pondering what my next one was going to be because I couldn’t possibly go more than 3 hours without feeding.
My over-reliance on food availability got me thinking, how did my ancestors interact with food? How often did they eat? Surely they didn’t have the food access we have now and so this is the conclusion I came to…
If our ancestors couldn’t function when they were hungry, we wouldn’t be here. So, not only are we essentially ‘built’ to have periods of not eating, our physiology almost surely expects it. These periods most likely lasted hours, days or potentially even weeks at times.
Fun Fact– in 1965 a man named Angus Barbieri fasted for 382 days straight. He started at 455 lbs (207 kg) and lost a whopping 275 lbs (125 kg) in that time, he literally had over a year’s worth of fuel in reserve on his body!
Essentially the inconvenience of cooking had me reassess whether eating so often was actually worth the time and effort required. Not to mention the potential physiological expectation of my genes, and therefore I slowly started to scale back my meal cadence. I went from 5 to 4, 3, 2 and occasionally even 1 large meal per day and it turns out 2 is my sweet spot, at least for right now that is.
At first I was worried because there are talks of lost muscle mass if frequency of feeding dips below say, 3-4 meals per day, but I thought to myself if I put on 90 or 95% of the muscle I can/could by eating 2x instead of 4x, that trade-off is absolutely worth it to me without a doubt!
As far as maintaining muscle that’s even easier than gaining, so in my experience I haven’t noticed any muscle mass losses going from 5 meals to 2 meals. Regarding metabolic rate and blood sugar balance, we now know that metabolism is not frequency of feeding dependent but calorie dependent. Meaning if I eat 2500 calories in 1 meal or 6 meals the metabolic impact is virtually identical in the big scheme of things. On the blood sugar front I would argue my blood sugar management is much better now than it was when I was eating 5x daily.
Now let’s get into what I actually do…
Breakfast is typically between 7 and 9am and it looks like black coffee baby, straight up. No sugar, cream, coconut oil, butter or anything of the sort.
Lunch usually looks like a serving of lean protein, some starchy carbohydrates, a source of fat and a vegetable or two around noon or 1pm. Today that looked like some extra lean ground turkey with 3 whole eggs, 4 slices of whole wheat toast and some zucchini, topped off with Chalula hot sauce…yum!
Occasionally I’ll have an apple or a banana in the late afternoon if I feel like it and I probably ‘feel’ like it 3 or so times per week.
Dinner often looks like a serving of lean protein, some starchy carbs, a source of fat and more veggies…yup lunch and dinner are sort of like fraternal twins. Tonight that’s going to be a can of black beans, a couple cups of cooked white rice, some coconut milk, carrots and chives all spiced up with salt and pepper.
Jeeze now that I write it out it seems kinda boring doesn’t it!? It’s nothing fancy but I thoroughly enjoy what I eat each day and honestly, making every meal the best thing you’ve ever tasted just isn’t sustainable. Some monotony and repetition is just baked into the cake when it comes to eating healthfully in my opinion.
Now, do YOU need to eat 2x per day to optimize the way you look, feel and perform? Absolutely not, I just wanted to share with you what I’m currently doing because I’ve found that eating less frequently took a lot of the burden off my shoulders around food. I think about it less and it has less of a ‘pull’ over me than it used to…don’t get me wrong I fuckin’ love food, but I no longer work my day around eating, I work eating around my day.
Here are the potential pros and cons of eating say 2x vs. 4x for me personally.
Pros of 2 meals
-Convenience and productivity (I get straight to work in the morning vs. making breakfast)
-Fewer thoughts of food
-Less anxiousness in regards to meals
-Larger more satisfying meals (I prefer fewer large meals as opposed to smaller more frequent ones)
-Less cooking and less cleaning up
-Improved blood sugar management (I can go ages without eating, no crash and no hangry episodes)
-Easy for me to adhere to and to maintain leanness
Cons of 2 meals
-Potentially not maximizing protein synthesis (muscle gain process) but muscle maintenance is my goal currently not muscle gain so this becomes essentially irrelevant
-Umm that’s all I’ve got at the moment…
In closing, does the fact that I eat 2 meals per day mean that you should eat 2 meals per day?
Again nope, that is NOT the point of this article.
Some of my clients eat 2x per day while others eat 5x and then everything in between. It’s all about personal preference and what you find easiest to adhere to based on your goals. Meaning, if 3 meals enables you to stay on track and eating healthfully, by all means do it. Same goes for 3 meals and a couple snacks, 4 full meals or 5…there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ meal cadence, just what works best for you on an individual level.
Now we’re left with whether someone whom has a bigger ‘eating window,’ so say from 7am to 10pm is missing out on some benefits of fasting for longer periods of time?
Based on the research right now I’m not comfortable saying that that’s necessarily the case.
My bias is that having some longer periods here and there without eating is probably beneficial. Fasting has been implemented for thousands if not millions of years both from an involuntary (food scarcity) and voluntary (religious practice) angle, so there’s probably something to it.
What we do know for certain is that the biggest benefit on your health is going to come from…
1. Maintaining a healthy bodyweight
2. Sleeping 7-9 hours nightly
3. Moving lots
4. Managing your stress levels
So whatever meal cadence has you dial in the staples above is A LOT more important than whether your eating window is 4 hours or 14 hours.
2 meals is easiest for ME to implement the 4 staples above, so that’s why I do it.