One big meal a day?
May 8, 2006 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Are there any weight loss (or maintenance) benefits to eating one large meal a day along with two small ones?

The "eat 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day" thing doesn't work for me. I'm either hungry all the time or eat too much at each meal. I need to lose weight-- doctor's orders. My big meal would be at lunch or around 3 to 4 pm. My other meals would entail a bowl of cereal or a thermos of soup.
posted by miltoncat to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The good news: here is your diet.

The bad news: I have a bad feeling it's horseshit based on a willful misreading of research and a lot of baloney about WARRIORS.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:10 PM on May 8, 2006

Best answer: The secret of weight loss is in taking in fewer calories than you burn, beyond that there's no secret to it. If one big meal and two small ones is easier for you within your calorie limit, then that's the thing you should do.

3500 calories = approximately 1 pound. Eat exactly as many calories as your body metabolizes in a day and you'll be stable. Eat more, and you'll gain a pound for every 3,500 calories. Eat less, and you'll lose a pound for every 3,500 calories.

The hardest part for my weight maintenance was just finding out how many calories my body actually burns in a typical day. For some reason the U.S. federal guidelines are all based on a 2,000 calorie diet, but I seem to maintain a steady weight when I eat 1,500 to 1,600 per day.

To lose weight, I need to cut down to about 1,100-1,200 calories per day, or burn an extra 400 calories per day, or do some combination of the two.

If your metabolism is like mine, you may have to think about how big a "big meal" is.

A fast food burger, fries and a cola could easily be more than 1,200 calories. If you have two smaller meals of 300 calories each, you could find yourself gaining weight under such a plan.

But if your big meal was limited to around 900 calories, and if you can control your urge to snack between other meals, your plan seems completely doable.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 10:12 PM on May 8, 2006 [1 favorite]

One big meal is the opposite of what you want to do. Multiple meals spaced out serve to keep insulin from spiking and driving glucose into cells. You just have to get the frequency and amount just right. There's a couple things that feed into "feeling full". One factor is blood glucose levels, Neuropeptide Y, and that sort of thing. The other part is the sensation of a full belly. This is where you have to become attuned to your own body to the point where you can say, I don't feel full, but I know that I've eaten enough that I won't need to eat again for 2 or 3 hours. Then let your body adapt to that practice and you'll find that you're paying less attention to the sensation of a full belly and more to the biochemical indicators, blood levels and so on. At first, it helps to eat "filler". The GoLean cereal by Kashi is an example of what I'm talking about, it's something that helps you feel full without actually eating all that much, in terms of caloric content.

Of course, your diet should be the last thing you think about when trying to lose weight. Get your physical activity straightened out first, start drinking 64-128 oz of water a day, and then just eat healthy meals. If you don't start losing weight in a couple weeks, increase your activity some more. All kinds of people can fail to get results from crazy diets, but if you're running 5 miles a day, you're going to lose weight. Doesn't have to be 5 miles, doesn't have to be running. The point is to find something strenous and do it. The quantity is more important than the type of activity, really. You just want something that's going to get your heartrate up and keep it up for 30-45 minutes.

If you, for some reason, are under orders to not increase activity, then you can try one of the ketogenic diets, but be forewarned: they're a lot of work, they're not fun, and unless you stick to them rigorously, they absolutely won't work.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:17 PM on May 8, 2006

Response by poster: Warrior Diet... heh. Sounds like you eat a pound of raw meat or something. :)

I wouldn't eat a fast food burger/fries/coke. Sounds like nasty. I don't eat fast food anyway; I'm mainly vegetarian, I avoid sugar and try to eat healthfully most of the time. I treated my body like a toxic waste dump for far too long so I'm trying to get right this time. You're right in that my big meal would be about 900 calories. Today it was a take-out mexican salad-- black beans, rice, a little bit of cheese, tons of lettuce, some tortilla chips, and a small scoop of guacamole on top of a flour tortilla. With some dressing on the side. Mmm.
posted by miltoncat at 10:22 PM on May 8, 2006

The warrior diet is just another flavor of ketogenic. It'll work, provided you use it as directed. The Atkins diet, another popular flavor, isn't really a weight-loss diet as described, it's a maintenance diet. You have to be a little more carb-strict to really lose on it.

supafreak - you've got the right idea, but you're oversimplifying a little too much. Your body adapts to both the amount of calories you take in and the type. One of the touted benefits of the warrior-type diets is that they train your body to metabolize fat, for example. So caloric restriction works, but you have to realize that you're setting yourself up for failure by training your body to maintain itself on less calories. Activity is the most important angle to address in weight loss. Diet is, at best, secondary.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:26 PM on May 8, 2006

No, it's not ketogenic. It doesn't restrict carbohydrates or rely on ketosis. It may be bone-headed but it's in a different category.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 10:36 PM on May 8, 2006

Best answer: What croutonsupafreak said. Do whatever works for you. The six small meals a day does not work for me at all either. I am a thin woman (130 pounds), when I do not exercise much I only burn about 1700 calories a day. Try spacing that over six meals and you'll get only snack type meals.

I have lost 100 pounds and maintained that for 18 months now. For me the three meals a day approach works and I found that I am not as hungry at dinner as I was before. Even when losing weight I always took an evening snack (most often some peanuts) and I thought I was really hungry then. When I noticed my weight going up again, I cut the evening snack and expected to feel hungry. I now think I wasn't hungry at all in the evening, I was just programmed to eat so often that my body adopted itself and expected food. Now it doesn't expect food anymore, and I feel great. I now eat most of my calories at lunch and that seems to work well. I like not eating all day and I think it is better for my body to not be digesting food continually.

Don't forget salad as one of your smaller meals. I find salad with lentil soup a very good and filling meal.

As for the blood sugar spikes thing: If you are not diabetic and do not eat junk food, that should not be a problem. Just eat healthy at the meals you do eat and exercise/have an active life.

Good luck!
posted by davar at 12:17 AM on May 9, 2006

"What they found is that neither metabolic rate nor food intake were strong predictors of weight gain — while activity levels were."

Link 1, 2

I can't eat 5 or 6 small meals either. I find myself thinking too much about when I can have the next "snack." I eat what I want, when I want - if I didn't, I would never have enough energy to do cardio every day and lift weights every other day. Conversely, if I didn't exercise enough, each of those meals would leave me feeling lethargic and sluggish, rather than satisfied and nourished. YMMV.
posted by invisible ink at 12:56 AM on May 9, 2006

Note: because I don't want to discount the importance of what skallas, davar & croutonsupafreak have said, I should note that I do count calories and eat 2,000 every day.
posted by invisible ink at 1:02 AM on May 9, 2006

The 'folk wisdom' I learned is that you "breakfast like a king, lunch like a lord and dine like a pauper." Having a substantial breakfast does help me to wake up in the mornings, and stops me feeling hungry later on. Plenty of fibre and lots to drink seems to be the key. I get through about 4 litres of water a day, at a slow steady rate.
posted by talitha_kumi at 1:47 AM on May 9, 2006

Best answer: I know that anecdotal evidence is all but worthless here, but in any case - my most successful weight loss of my life came while I was living in Brazil. I'd have a small breakfast - usually some fruit and a small cheese bun, a large lunch, as that was the primary meal of the day, and a small dinner, which was largely a repeat of breakfast.

That calorie profile, plus more than the usual amount of walking, led to me losing 90lbs in 11 months. I speculate that it has to do with a) not snacking in the afternoon because I'm still full from lunch and b) getting my calories in early in the day, instead of just before bed.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:17 AM on May 9, 2006

They have done studies that had participants eat a large dinner or a large breakfast, and the results showed that the breakfast crowd lost more weight than the dinner crowd. There is also a statistic that shows that young girls who eat breakfast have a lesser chance of obesity.
posted by mhuckaba at 7:03 AM on May 9, 2006

If you need some sort of externally-imposed structure and support, the No S Diet encourages a three-squares-a-day approach.

I had some success on it but I was coming from having hardly any food discipline at all. I'm back toward "small meals and healthy snacks between" now.
posted by mendel at 7:31 AM on May 9, 2006

The "eat 5 or 6 small meals throughout the day" thing doesn't work for me. I'm either hungry all the time...

I suggest you get some healthy snacks, like fruits or vegetables. Have an apple, banana, baby carrots, or walnuts when the hunger hits you. If you seriously want to lose weight (and do it fast) you're going to have to either manage the hunger or learn to bear it.
posted by exhilaration at 7:48 AM on May 9, 2006

I've heard that not eating enough can actually slow down your metabolism and inhibit weight loss. Does this mean that if you don't eat much for most of the day and have one big meal, your metabolism will slow down? Or does it just depend on the total calorie intake for the day, regardless of the timing?
posted by gokart4xmas at 8:00 AM on May 9, 2006

Running 1 mile is a mere 100 calories. That's like a slice of cheese.

Well, exercise will also bestir a sluggish metabolism and lead to increased calorie consumption all day. Or so I'm told. In particular, if you do something that really challenges your muscles, your body will expend energy on repairing them and building them up. Once they're built up, the extra muscle will burn more calories just from being there.

Plus of course you'll feel better, which is reason enough to recommend it, as far as I'm concerned.

I've heard that not eating enough can actually slow down your metabolism and inhibit weight loss.

This is true, but my understanding is that it takes extreme calorie restriction over a prolonged period. Dropping a few hundred calories from your maintenance level shouldn't do it, in other words.
posted by kindall at 8:34 AM on May 9, 2006

The following forum has some good discussions by professional trainers and upper-echelon athletes:

How to look good naked(1).
How to look good naked(2).

oh, and your favorite diet sucks.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 10:15 AM on May 9, 2006

Don't eat six small meals. Eat three medium-sized meals, and three snacks: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. I'm on a 2,000 calorie diet devised by a dietitian. I eat three meals of around 500-600 calories each, and three snacks of around 100-150 calories each. I am never hungry, and after two months I don't think about food at all.

A typical day:

Breakfast - a cup of Uncle Toby's Swiss muesli, with a tablespoon of wheatgerm and 200ml / 7 oz of 1% fat organic milk

Morning snack: Some fruit - a bunch of grapes, a mandarin, some kiwi fruit, whatever. I usually have a large skim milk decaf flat white around this time. Maybe I'll munch on 1/6 cup of wasabi peas and drink a big glass of water.

Lunch: 150g / 5 oz of tuna in springwater, with heaps of fresh salad

Afternoon tea: More fruit, a 25g / 1 oz block of Shape cheese, maybe a diet soda

Dinner: 200g meat, chicken or fish, a single portion of rice, pasta, beans or noodles (or 200g of sweet potato), lots of veges - Asian greens, mushrooms, zucchini, green beans, broccoli, asparagus, whatever

Supper: A Fruche, or a Weiss bar, or a smoothie made with half a large banana, 200ml 1% milk, 1 tsp honey, 1 tbsp wheatgerm and 1/2 tray icecubes.

That usually takes me around the 1700-1800 calorie mark. I've lost 25 lbs in a couple of months, and it's been pretty effortless. I counted calories in a diet diary for the first month or so, but now I just write down a few days without the calories once in a while, and for a week before I see the dietitian again. No exercise yet - lapband surgeon (who scared the bejeezus out of me in the first place) said it was a great way to maintain weight, but a dumb way to lose it. Better not to eat the calories in the first place.

And I seriously recommend the smoothies. It makes a full pint, tastes great, and it really fills you up for just 200 calories.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:56 PM on May 9, 2006 [1 favorite]

Wasabi - If you're talking to a doctor who tells you that exercise is a dumb way to lose weight, you're talking to the wrong person. I'd ask him if that's what he really meant, and if it was, find somebody else. Someone who knows what he's talking about.

That's an interesting diet you've got there! Y'all eat different way up there.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 11:55 AM on May 10, 2006

I've lost 30 pounds in six months on Seth Roberts' s Shangrila Diet, as described in the Freakonomics column and now in his book. Google it, I don't have a link. The gist is, you trick your body into thinking you are in a period of steady but not calorie rich small amts of food -- in this case, nearly tasteless oil and sugar water (which your body treats as tasteless, oddly).
Then you eat whatever you want -- but if you take in enough tasteless calories, you will snack and eat a lot less. It sounds a
tad kooky, I agree, but it works. I lost about a pound a week for a while, and really didn't exercise much. You should exericse, but that is another issue. This thing really works.

The net effect, by the way is that you end up eating a few small meals or in some cases a couple of snacks and one big meal. But you're not starving all day, as I suspect people on some of these other diets are -- you feel full, all from taking in a few hundred tasteless calories over the course of the day,
at least one hour after or before a meal. The tasteless part is important. Bland sushi without wasabi supposedly works too.

And he documents it all with actual science and self-experimentation.
posted by Slagman at 5:10 PM on May 10, 2006

« Older Question about an antiviral medicine.   |   Help me identify this language Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.