Dogmatic adherence to mealtimes is anti-science, racist, and might actually be making you sick.
Meals are good, and snacking is bad. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if you eat dinner with your family, you will keep your girlish figure and your kids will be healthier. Taking a lunch break will make you succeed at your job.
Okay, now forget all that. Because as it turns out, the concept of three square meals a day has practically zero to do with your actual metabolic needs. And our dogmatic adherence to breakfast, lunch, and dinner might actually be making us sick.
The three daily meals that the settlers brought evolved with Americans’ lifestyles. As people became more prosperous, they added meat to breakfast and dinner. After the Industrial Revolution, when people began to work away from home, the midday meal became a more casual affair, and the cooked meal shifted to the end of the day, when workers came home. The one thing that did not change was the overall amount of food that people ate…Soon, doctors reported that more of their patients were suffering from indigestion.
In an effort to rein in caloric intake, nutritionists began advising people to eat a lighter breakfast—
That line of reasoning persists today—check out Kellogg’s modern-day treatise on the health benefits of breakfast. But there’s just one problem: Science shows that when it comes to maintaining your metabolism—the bodily system that helps us turn food into energy and, when out of whack, can lead to diabetes and other disorders—it doesn’t make a whit of difference whether you eat breakfast or not.
And breakfast isn’t the only metabolically unimportant meal. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter much at all how and when you get your calories.
The one thing that might actually improve your metabolism is periodic fasting—that’s right, the very same eating pattern that the early European settlers deemed uncivilized…caloric deprivation acts as a mild stress that helps cells build up their defenses—warding off damage from aging, environmental toxins, and other threats.
Biologist Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, meanwhile, observed in a 2012 study that mice consuming all of their calories within an eight-hour window were less likely to develop metabolic diseases like diabetes than those who ate whenever they pleased.
So should you quit meals and fast intermittently instead? You could try it.
Instead of obsessing about meal size and frequency, Ochner recommends something simpler: Don’t eat when it’s time for a meal; eat when you feel hungry.