Can you live healthily on one good meal a day
July 28, 2011 7:23 AM   Subscribe

Can I live healthily on one meal a day?

My weight-loss efforts are not yielding results, primarily because I travel an awful lot for work, stay in different hotels in different countries, work long hours and oftentimes only have access to vending machines.

I'm thinking if I could train myself just to have one good meal a day (be it breakfast or dinner), it would take away the need to find food during the day, and mean I wouldn't be tempted to eat rubbish throughout the day and still have a late dinner. It would be a strategy to regain some control in environments where I have little control when/where the next meal is going to be.

Is it possible to get all you need in one meal and live off that for a whole day? I know it would take some training to get used to the hunger. What about brain power during the day? Would I mentally collapse in on myself?! And would you ever get used to it or is it too extreme?
posted by stenoboy to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't think this is a good idea.

A nutritionist would be able to best answer this question for you.
posted by masters2010 at 7:25 AM on July 28, 2011

Look into "Intermittent Fasting". I still recommend getting your diet in line before trying it, though.
posted by Loto at 7:26 AM on July 28, 2011

A nutritionist would be able to best answer this question for you.

If you're in the US, go with a dietician. Any shmuck off the street can call themselves a nutritionist, whereas a dietician is a registered health professional.
posted by griphus at 7:33 AM on July 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

Thanks for the clarification griphus, I didn't know of the distinction. I originally wrote dietician but then it was underlined for incorrect spelling so my OCD nature led me to change it to nutritionist, which I now know to be any shmuck off the street.
posted by masters2010 at 7:39 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think it depends a lot on what type of eater you are, what your metabolism is like, etc. I hear of people who "forget to eat lunch" and my mind does not understand this, because I need meals like clockwork. However, my husband is someone who, when he overeats the night before, will just not want to eat again until dinnertime the following day. I can't do this. One meal a day would be a nightmare for me.

That said - I can't help but feel that this would probably not work all that well. I can't see how you would avoid getting really, really hungry at times, and when that level of hunger sets in, you're going to reach for whatever food is most convenient, and the chances that healthy options will be most convenient are not high when you're on the road.
posted by something something at 7:40 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

My husband's insurance company (Blue Cross Blue Shield) encouraged members of his company to take a nutrition course called Naturally Slim. One of the main tenets of this program was that you should only eat when you are hungry, and the program's creator said that some people, especially if they do not get a lot of physical activity during the day, are only hungry once or twice a day.

I'm not sure of this program's reputation, but they do say it's OK to only eat once a day.
posted by mmmbacon at 7:42 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

masters2010 - "dietician" isn't necessarily incorrect per se, but "dietitian" is preferred by the American Dietetics Association. Spellcheck doesn't get distinctions.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:42 AM on July 28, 2011

I originally wrote dietician but then it was underlined for incorrect spelling
It's because it's officially 'dietitian'. (Not being pedantic, just trying to help for googling purposes.)
posted by so_gracefully at 7:43 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Maybe you should look into picking up some meal replacement shake mixes or something, then at least you could mix it with water and have something to cover you for the other two meals. The dry mixes in individual packets would probably not be a problem for taking through airports and customs.
posted by lizbunny at 7:43 AM on July 28, 2011

Won't this increase your risk of diabetes?

(Don't ever eat unless you're hungry. Eat very slowly.)
posted by devnull at 7:44 AM on July 28, 2011

I should add that another thing the program states if that you should never let yourself get extremely hungry, because if you do you will be more likely to binge. So, if you do get hungry, you should eat, but if you do not, it's OK to skip a meal.
posted by mmmbacon at 7:47 AM on July 28, 2011

One bad thing I see about doing this is that it spikes your blood sugar instead of breaking it up throughout the day with meals. This can increase your risk of diabetes. I'd at least reduce your non-main meals to slim fast shakes, and make sure you eat a healthy amount of total calories per day.

Anecdotally, I went from a 2500 cal/day diet to 1100 a couple years ago by eating nothing but egg whites and low-calories fillers (cucumber, tomato, radish). I dropped 20 lbs in a month, but I felt awful. There are better, slower ways.
posted by hanoixan at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Personally, I become absolutely intolerable when I'm hungry. I am irritable, quick to complain, and hate making decisions. I hear that other people aren't like this, but it runs in my family, and my husband's as well.

So, sure, give it a shot, but be aware of these warning signs and if all heck breaks loose with your client relations, have an emergency protein bar on-hand.
posted by aimedwander at 7:53 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not a good idea. If your schedule is so unpredictable that you don't have much control over when you eat, you'll probably have trouble figuring out how to keep yourself satisfied for a day or longer. What if you typically eat your one meal at breakfast, but one day you can't eat until dinner?

Instead, why not carry something shelf-stable, travel-friendly, and filling? Raw almonds are excellent travel snacks; in addition to having protein, fiber, and good fats, they're easy to find and won't melt or crumble.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:56 AM on July 28, 2011 [6 favorites]

There's no reason in theory that you can't satisfy all of your daily nutritional needs in a single meal. It may prove difficult in practice, however.

There is a lot of good information here: top ten fasting myths debunked.
posted by ludwig_van at 7:57 AM on July 28, 2011

Google the Warrior Diet, which is basically one meal a day. There's a lot of discussion about it online. I haven't tried it myself, but from what I've ready, you really need to eat a lot in your one meal to get enough nutrients.
posted by Durin's Bane at 7:59 AM on July 28, 2011

Intermittent Fasting works very well for some. It is MUCH easier to fast comfortably if you keep your carbohydrate intake low.
posted by lizifer at 8:03 AM on July 28, 2011

Just anecdotal evidence, of course, but my wife and I both do this several days a week. We just eat dinner. Social obligations mean we eat a small lunch a couple days a week. Seems like it takes a while to get used to it ... low blood sugar episodes can be a problem early on ... but once you do adapt, it's really no big deal and eating more often starts to seem unnatural and just plain overdoing it.

As to whether it's healthy - well - we *feel* healthy, have plenty of energy to exercise regularly, etc. It does seem to cut down on calorie intake in general, no matter what it is we eat. A surprising number of our friends find our meal schedule terribly disconcerting, especially since we are not actually doing it as part of any specific diet plan or anything.
posted by balberth at 8:11 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think it's a good idea at all. I'm not a nutrition expert but I will stay say no.

This is a gimmick and is not sustainable. If you can find one healthy meal a day, there is no reason why you can't find three.

If you have weight problems, tend to overeat, and have a habit of choosing unhealthy foods, how long do you think this one meal a day thing is going to last? Be for real. Sooner or later you're going to crack and want more food. Don't create a scenario where you are going to inevitably overeat or binge because one meal is not enough. I will even say that you are likely to gain more weight in the long run if you adopt a one meal a day plan.

I struggle with my weight and this approach would not last or work for me. It might work for you, but I doubt it The fact that you want to "train" yourself is concerning. You can't train biology and the powerful physiological need for food. You can't train yourself or create new habits through psychology when it comes to forgoing food. It will never last.

I heard a motto in regards to dieting and food choices the other day that really stuck with me. It went something like, "Don't do today what you can't do forever." I know you are concerned about business trips but there are ways to have three healthy meals a day while traveling. If you think you can do it forever, do it. If not, don't even bother.

A more reasonable, and lasting, approach would be to eat three "normal" meals per day and one or two healthy snacks. This way of eating is something you can do long-term and isn't another fad or gimmick.
posted by Fairchild at 8:33 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Well, health is not a black and white concept. I could never live healthily on one meal a day, because I would become starving, light-headed, angry, weak, etc. I would lose weight (which is not a goal) and wouldn't feel good. My husband, on the other hand, routinely forgets to eat for most of the day and then eats a good dinner, and is generally healthy with good vitals and says he feels fine.

My take would be that you could try it, and if you make one big meal that includes all the proper elements of nutrition and you feel good doing that, then you can live healthily that way. I would not imagine that this would work for *most* people, though.

Oh, and definitely be hydrating all day long--you definitely can't drink all your fluids for the day at once!
posted by tetralix at 8:34 AM on July 28, 2011

It depends what you mean by healthy. Humans can certainly survive on eating only once every 24 hours.

But if you're doing it to lose weight it probably won't work. You need to eat regularly to recalibrate your appetite. If you get very very very hungry between meals the temptation to snack will be intense, as will the temptation to overeat at that meal. And it is perfectly possible to eat more than 2000 calories at one meal.

A better approach would be to eat three meals a day, at regular times, and if possible in the company of family and/or friends. Avoid eating between meals unless you're really really really totally ravenous, as in, "you have a conversation with your boss and you keep hallucinating that he's on a platter with an apple in his mouth" totally ravenous. Obviously, if you get that ravenous, snack. Otherwise, don't.

And when you eat these meals, put just a little less on your plate than you think will satisfy you; eat it slowly; and, if you're still hungry, pause for a few minutes to see if it passes and if not, serve yourself a little more. Put your fork down in between bites, and always eat off dishes (not out of packages) and at a set table (not in front of the TV).
posted by tel3path at 8:53 AM on July 28, 2011

Fairchild: "
A more reasonable, and lasting, approach would be to eat three "normal" meals per day and one or two healthy snacks. This way of eating is something you can do long-term and isn't another fad or gimmick.

I'd say, with ~200,000 years of humans being around, that the "fad or gimmick" is the one where you eat 3 meals and one or two healthy snacks per day. Didn't hunter-gatherers kill a big animal, feast for a day or two, then have "healthy snacks" here and there until they could kill another big animal to gorge on?
posted by Grither at 8:56 AM on July 28, 2011

Best answer: IANAN, IANAD, etc.

I did this throughout university. I have a metabolism like something something's husband: I can eat once a day and feel fine. HOWEVER. I lost an awful amount of weight and, although I didn't really think of it at the time (I skipped a lot of classes...) I was sleeping 12-15 hours a day. I was literally asleep more than I was awake. And I needed that sleep. Without it I was crabby and slow-brained -- my brain power was totally sapped. Related to a severe lack of nutrients? Probably. So yes, you will lose brain power unless you can afford to sleep like a cat in a sunbeam.

Now, I sort of do this. Breakfast today was a plum. Mid-morning snack was another plum. Lunch is a banana. Possibly I will get a tummy rumble this aft and eat my emergency apple, but probably not. I won't eat again until 7PM when I will have a lovely, healthy dinner. Can you try this? Pack a butt-load of fruit into a sack (backpack? shopping bag? purse?) in the AM and instead of reaching for the vending machine, reach for the banana. When travelling, ask the hotel to grab you some fruits to leave in your room (expensive places will do this. Cheap places will tell you where to do it yourself).
posted by AmandaA at 8:59 AM on July 28, 2011

People do this. Usually they're called prisoners (or in contemporary American MSM, "detainees"). I'm with aimedwander and something something on this, can't understand how people would choose to skip meals, but I've become aware that there are people to whom eating is a burden, not life's main pleasure, and hunger isn't the crisis it is for me. I've heard the human body works best on one big meal every other day, so if you can stomach that, go for it.
posted by Rash at 9:05 AM on July 28, 2011

I'd say, with ~200,000 years of humans being around, that the "fad or gimmick" is the one where you eat 3 meals and one or two healthy snacks per day. Didn't hunter-gatherers kill a big animal, feast for a day or two, then have "healthy snacks" here and there until they could kill another big animal to gorge on?

Right. I'm with you on the caveman thing. I understand what you're saying I'm a big fan of Gary Taubes and Rob Wolff and other paleo guys


We are not cavemen. We don't have to hunt our food. We don't have to fast and go hungry before our next kill. If the caveman had three meals per day available, you bet they would have been eating those three meals.

We live in a modern society that is structured around three meals a day. We have social lives that are often centered around food. We have been eating three meals a day, or more, since we were born, so I do not think doing something like one meal a day is smart or realistic. It's difficult to change habits, especially habits that are food-related.

And while I totally support the theory/idea that intermittent fasting is not harmful, man can live on meat, blood, and seeds alone, etc., I choose not to. I can't stay on a Paleo way of eating for great lengths of time. Life happens. Social occasions arise. I live in a modern society with bread and birthday cake. I like oatmeal and I don't think it's going to kill me. I don't believe in cheating days or gorge days or any of that stuff. I'm trying to eat normally every day -- normal meals at normal times. So far it's going well. I've lost weight and I haven't binged or overate.

Sorry, I went into a tirade :-), but I think the poster, and anybody else, that wants to choose a way of eating for the long term needs to think about and implement what is realistic and doable for them. Those of us that are overweight are so desperate to find something that works, that we are lured by fads.

Good luck to all who struggle with food choices, habits, and their weight.
posted by Fairchild at 9:20 AM on July 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

The best way is to split your meals into 5 smaller meals during the day. IF you can bring things with you and make smaller meals that will be a lot healthier then one big meal.
posted by majortom1981 at 10:21 AM on July 28, 2011

I'm with both grither and AmandaA on this one...yeah the 3mealaday2000calorie diet is modernist bullshit. though society may have changed, thanks to it, we really haven't, biologically, in a million years...i usually look a bit further back, being historically-minded and ask 'what would a monkey do?'..."oh here's a piece of fruit" nom nom nom..."oh here's some grass" nibble nibble..."oh look at all these bananas!"NOM NOM NOM...
I've been going on ~one meal a day my whole life...I'm a skinny bitch, totally healthy, low blood pressure, cholesterol,etc...keeping the weight down is probably #1 for health and longevity, exersize #2 (i totally slack on this one, but i do a LOT of walking), and good sleep habits can totally get by on one meal a day, but yes, there will be snacking...and as long as your main meal and say, half of your snacks are healthy ones (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, all that hippy BS), you'd be surprised at how much processed junk you can get away with (but i tend to be more attracted to sugary sweet stuff than high-fat salty stuff)
posted by sexyrobot at 10:47 AM on July 28, 2011

I'm thinking if I could train myself just to have one good meal a day (be it breakfast or dinner), it would take away the need to find food during the day, and mean I wouldn't be tempted to eat rubbish throughout the day and still have a late dinner.

How are you going to train yourself to have just one good meal a day if you tend to be tempted to eat rubbish throughout the day?
posted by desuetude at 10:53 AM on July 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I travel a lot for work, and completely understand the issues you face. Not a lot of choices when you are rushing to return the rental car while on the phone with a client and trying to make sure you didn't forget to send an urgent email while trying to find something - anything - to eat, since you didn't have time for lunch that day.

As well as the health / weight issue - I gained a lot of pounds while in a stressful position last year, on top of all the travel.

One huge change I made was to eat low-carb (the Atkins approach for me has been an absolute godsend), and now when I travel I make it a point to get to a grocery store, no matter where I am, and get access to a hotel room refrigerator. So breakfast could be in the lobby, or it could be what I purchased locally, including lots of vegetables, cheeses, meats, and fruit. Ditto for lunch, I bring it along with me, and it's easy-peasy convenient, simply passing all the "10-minutes at a fast-food place gulping down a hamburger" choices.

It was a revelation last week, after being gone for 5 days, to come home 2 lbs lighter than when I left. Believe me, it wasn't that way last year at all - I used to be coming home so tired that I'd eat just to keep myself entertained. No more - doing low-carb has removed for me the driving 'need' to 'pick up something on the way home'.
posted by scooterdog at 10:59 AM on July 28, 2011

Yes, if your meal is a BIG meal, and contains enough calories and nutrients, you can do just fine on this provided your stomach adjusts to the hunger.

As a prior poster suggested, check out Intermittent Fasting. There's not a small amount of evidence that indicates IF may actually be better for you in some ways because brief periods of fasting (like 12-20 hours) improves insulin sensitivity. If you go with the one meal a day route you'd basically be doing this.

Your body doesn't give a crap when it gets its calories and nutrients or how many meals you have as long as it gets its calories and nutrients (though apparently eating at night is preferable for keeping off fat than eating in the morning).
posted by Anonymous at 11:02 AM on July 28, 2011

(though apparently eating at night is preferable for keeping off fat than eating in the morning)

Link for this? I always thought it was quite the other way around.
posted by BryanPayne at 11:14 AM on July 28, 2011

I am, and have always been, a very healthy person. There are many days that I only eat once, due to scheduling and distractions (so Ketosis is a friend of mine since I was a kid.) It has been ever thus.

The thing is, I can do this because my body can do this, and I'm not deciding to "eat once a day"; I'm eating when I'm hungry, otherwise not. There are days I can go without eating more than one meal, sure, because i'm not hungry; there are other days where I've had three meals but I need to eat, and NOWNOWNOW.

By far the best thing, then, would be to start by keeping a diary of when you are actually hungry (as opposed to bored or tasty-crap-food-adjacent), the kind of hungry you can't say no to without feeling like you're going to puke, and eat at those times. Over the course of, say, two weeks, see how you feel, and read back through your diary to see how you felt. Go from there.
posted by davejay at 12:53 PM on July 28, 2011

Oh, and this is crucial: during this initial period, do not eat crap food. No sodas, either. Avoid anything unhealthy, because your need/hunger balance gets f'd up by things like HFCS.
posted by davejay at 12:55 PM on July 28, 2011

I lost 50 pounds over six months or so by not eating dinner. I ate whatever I wanted for breakfast and lunch and if I just couldn't stand not having something in the evening I had one bowl of cereal (usually Cheerios, just FYI). What I ate for breakfast and lunch wasn't always healthy but it still worked (I advise to eat healthy meals -- do as I say, not as I do). In any case, if you want to skip a meal skip dinner. Lots of people make the mistake of making dinner their biggest meal and then going to bed.
posted by deborah at 1:55 PM on July 28, 2011

I'm doing this right now, and have been doing it for about 18 months so far. It works well for me, as I am able to make good food choices once a day, and refocus my attention on something other than food for the rest of the day.

Two notes:
- The first week or so, I was a little hungry mid-day. No biggie -- eat something small and drink some water. Your body acclimates to this after about a week.
- It's important to make the single meal a smart one, with vegetables, fruit, lean meats, and so on. There's not a lot of room for junk.
posted by Houstonian at 5:19 PM on July 28, 2011

Oh, and to clarify, I'm sorry if my comment came off as judgmental. I can see how it could be read that way, but I didn't mean "you're a weak person for eating crap, WTF are you thinking."

I meant that preferred eating patterns and temptations and the definition of inconvenience differ considerably from person to person, but your plan seems like it could get counterproductive pretty quickly. After all, if you're relying on getting by on one meal a day, you'll have done even less planning for available decent food, and may feel even worse about yourself for eating it.

When I travel, I often depend on one good, complete meal, but I start off my trip by finding the closest grocery or decent convenience store to stock up on shelf-stable snacks to get me through, like dried fruit, nuts, jerky/cured sausage, etc., adjusting for culture if travelling internationally.

Also, YMMV, but I would find both my mental acuity and digestion to be out of whack after a few days of truly only eating once. And if you're in business/social situations where you'll drink alcohol, it's best to have something in your stomach.
posted by desuetude at 9:43 PM on July 29, 2011

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