Switch to mobile version

The Myth of Three Meals a Day

Post image for The Myth of Three Meals a Day

DISCLAIMER: Obviously this is not medical or professional advice of any kind. These are my thoughts and you can read them if you like. I make no recommendations about what you should do and I take no responsibility for your choices.

The other day a friend shared what I thought was a profound observation: bananas are not yellow. At least they’re mostly not.

The yellowness of bananas happens only for a week or so out of their entire lifecycle. Most of the time they’re green or brown. But human beings are fixated on that fleeting yellow phase, so we think of bananas as intrinsically yellow things.

I had a similar epiphany the other day when I told someone I feel better when I skip the first meal of the day, something I’ve been doing for a few months. It occurred to me afterward that I’m not actually skipping anything — there is no morning meal in my life, so there’s nothing to skip. Despite how normal this feels for me now, it’s difficult to shake the idea that a day still has three meals as an intrinsic property. Days have three meals, and bananas are yellow.

After I published a post discussing diet and eating in 2020, a reader told me that he doesn’t eat at all on Tuesdays. I was immediately intrigued by this idea – something about its complete disregard for tradition, its promise of freedom from imposed structures. When I said might try that, he recommended not telling anyone, because people are extremely attached to the notion that days must have three meals, not just for themselves but for everyone else.  

I’ve finally begun to do this sort of regular fasting -– eating only one meal some days, and occasionally zero meals. And I have decided to tell people I’m doing this — partly for accountability, but mostly because I’m fascinated by how strongly people resist the idea.  

Reactions so far have been a combination of interest and concern. The prevailing belief does seem to be that humans require three meals every single day, and you deviate from this number at your peril – missing lunch or breakfast is survivable but worrisome, eating only dinner is masochistic, and eating nothing for a day is a sure sign of disordered eating or some other form of mental illness.

Nobody knows exactly how we fell into the cultural belief that the human body must take in food every four or five waking hours, but we do know it hasn’t been a thing for very long. It seems to have arisen sometime in the 19th century, from a haphazard combination of religious tradition, industrial shift work, and marketing efforts by food producers.

Evolution in progress

The general pattern throughout history is that people ate whenever their social systems dictated. Pre-industrial farmers ate before going out to the fields and upon returning. Hunter-gatherers ate when somebody had hunted or gathered something and they weren’t busy with anything else. The ancient Romans, who revered the digestive process and viewed morning eating as morally dubious, ate only dinner, but had it in the afternoon. Seemingly most pre-modern cultures have practiced fasting for various medical, moral, or spiritual reasons, and many cultures do today.

Despite the tacit assumption that we’ve evolved to eat like 19th-century factory workers, the human body is well-equipped to go without food for a day or two or five or ten, because of two life-saving physiological abilities: to store excess food within our bodies, and to redeem that stored food for operating energy when we haven’t eaten in a while.

However, this pair of functions create a problem for a culture in which not having eaten in a while is treated as a kind of moral perversion: our bodies regularly do the storing part, but almost never do the redeeming part. The main result is unsurprising – a tendency towards creeping weight gain, on both the individual and population level.

My hunch is that the human body does better while eating not at all some days than while eating all day every day, and there is increasing scientific support for this suspicion. Certainly there’s something less than healthy about Western eating conventions, and researchers are now studying how much of this problem derives from when and how often we eat, rather than only what and how much.

Of course, what works for a person on a practical level is bound to be an individual matter. It’s clear to me now that the three meals tradition has never really worked for me. Aside from resulting in simply too much food intake for my body, three meals takes a large part of the day to eat, prepare, and clean up after. It also partitions the day into four small pieces I struggle to use well, and during three of those pieces I’m physically and mentally dulled by the digestive process.

1:01pm, most days

There are other purported benefits to spending more of your life in a fasted state, as the fasting community will tell you, from providing a sustainable method of weight loss to the full reversal of type 2 diabetes cases. It also supposedly improves heart health, reduces inflammation, staves off neurodegenerative disorders, aids muscle growth, and provides cognitive benefits. Scientific consensus on these claims is surely many years away (as consensus almost always is) but since I already know conventional eating patterns don’t work for me, I’m happy to test fasting protocols on myself in the meantime.

Last Tuesday was day two of a six-week fasting experiment, and probably the first day of my life in which I didn’t eat a thing between waking and sleep. For the most part, I felt great. There were a few fleeting moments of craving, all of which happened when I saw food or pictures of it, but I didn’t experience any sort of persistent hunger. I felt light, clear-minded, and energetic. Cognitive tasks, such as reading, meditating, and writing, were noticeably easier. It almost felt like everything was easier. Have I been spending my entire life digesting things?

Most exciting was how much time there was. The day felt long and mine to partition as I pleased. During an afternoon writing session, I checked the clock and it said 4:10, a time that usually feels like the beginning of the end of the day – I’ve got to wrap up what I’m doing by five or so to make dinner, after which I have a few hours in a low-energy state to clean up, then putter around or read or watch something. But this time, 4pm only meant I had seven more hours to make use of before bedtime.

It felt surreal to be able to use all sixteen revolutions of the clock. For once there was time to properly finish things, to take real breaks, to go for a walk, to read something, to attend to other people’s needs – all without the feeling of having to squeeze a thing in because the next partition was creeping up on me. I felt in charge of my day in a way I don’t think I ever have.

Me last Tuesday, 4:07pm

Obviously I can’t quit eating altogether, nor do I want to. But I think have already quit the conventional method of fueling the body. The experiment will help me zero in on an eating pattern that works best for my life and my body.

The Experiment

The six-week experiment began last Monday. Basically, I’m going to be fasting one or two days per week for six weeks. Most of the remaining days I will eat my usual two meals, and some days I’ll have only one large one. In week five I’ll do a 72-hour fast. A more detailed plan can be found on the experiment page.

I don’t recommend joining me without reading about fasting and time-restricted eating first. Names to start with are Jason Fung, Peter Attia, Gin Stephens, and Satchin Panda.

View the experiment log

***

Photos by Paul Hanaoka, Museums Victoria, Tony Tran, Aditya Saxena

Need help focusing?

The big productivity books are written by people who don't especially struggle with productivity.

The rest of us find other ways. I shared mine in this post.

{ 81 Comments }

Citrus Simon April 18, 2022 at 2:16 am

I dId a experiment of not only skipping breakfast, but only eating raw fruits and vegetables. I felt so good, that i did not go back to cooked foods again.
I know it is normal to eat cooked food, but something amazing happened to me when i stopped eating it. Today i feel half my age.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:03 am

I haven’t tried eating raw food but I hear a lot of people say they felt great. Probably a future experiment for me.

{ Reply }

Ann Towers April 18, 2022 at 2:19 am

Interestingly I just started IF (intermittent fasting) yesterday, so seeing your article this morning was really timely.
I have been subscribing to your blog for nearly 10 years, and often felt that I am growing, experiencing life & learning with you.
Thank you, David!

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:03 am

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

{ Reply }

Natacha April 18, 2022 at 2:20 am

I agree David, I’ve been eating two meals a days for the last 7 or 8 years I think, and I get a lot out of it. My favourite part: my hunger used to be very urgent, I was feeling bad when I was hungry, I had to eat very quickly or I would be hypoglycemic. Now I am just hungry, I can chose to eat or to wait. So much freedom!

I also have the habit of fasting when I travel, be it a few hours drive, in a train, or a day in a plane. So no need to prepare food, to ask myself where I could find healthy food, if I should sleep or eat… And I get a dose of healthy fasting!

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:12 am

That’s one thing I didn’t mention but it’s a big part of it — hunger is mostly just the feeling of “I usually eat now,” rather than a real signal from the body that it’s best that you eat now. After I stopped eating in the morning it was only about three days before I stopped wanting to eat in the morning.

Travel will be interesting — it will certainly make it easier and cheaper (and healthier) to have one restaurant meal per day instead of three.

{ Reply }

Joe April 18, 2022 at 2:30 am

I totally relate to the time saving properties.

I get most of my calories from one of those products similar to Soylent.

Its great to be able to just blend up a 400 calorie shake when I get hungry, and know that I’m getting all the micro and macronutrients I need.

I don’t only have that stuff, but it’s so nice to have gotten out of the endless cycle of cooking, cleaning, preparing, shopping etc.

I really struggle with fasting though. I tend to feel sick or nauseaus on an empty stomach which is unpleasant.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:16 am

I did do a Soylent experiment six or seven years ago, and it worked for me for quite a while. I think I was making my own meal replacement drink for almost a year afterward. What didn’t occur to me was that I didn’t need to take in any form of nutrients three times a day. The time savings were incredible though.

{ Reply }

DiscoveredJoys April 18, 2022 at 2:50 am

I’ve been doing Time Reduced Eating eating (only eating between 12:00 and 18:00) for the last 10 months. I have lost some weight and feel better for it. It won’t suit everybody but the ‘fasting’ idea seems to be a good one however it is implemented.

I have found that if I ‘sneak’ a snack or two in the evening it shows up on the scales when I next weigh myself. It makes me think we are fine tuned by our social settings to join the ‘always eating’ mindset.

My next experiment will be to go to One Meal A Day and a little more light exercise to shift more weight. Strangely (or not so strangely) I find myself fabricating lots of ‘reasons’ why I should put this off… we shall see.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:20 am

That’s great. I think time-restricted eating is fairly common now, which is a good sign. It will help break up a lot of the social pressure that keeps us eating at times when our bodies don’t particularly appreciate it.

Good luck with OMAD. So far I like it a lot. I can take the time to make a rewarding dinner with a lot of variety, because it’s the only time I’m eating that day.

{ Reply }

Karan Sharma April 18, 2022 at 2:50 am

Brilliant stuff David. I was inspired to start eating one meal a day and fast every Sunday here from this fantastic lecture on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RuOvn4UqznU&t=688s
I’ve now gone back to eating two meals a day, but I should definitely give myself a day where I fast completely. Best of luck on your experiment!

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:21 am

Great, I will listen to this. Thanks Karan.

{ Reply }

Jean April 18, 2022 at 2:51 am

Hi David, I haven’t eaten 3 meals a day for so long I can’t remember when : ) and along with your observation about ‘yellow’ bananas i reckon it’s all part of the power of cult-ure over our thinking and perception.
The notion of travel broadening the mind is one way of experiencing the nuances and mind-sets of different cultures….for me a solitary childhood of benign neglect followed by an artistic life gave me a head start in a more objective view of my own (UK) culture.
So much of man-made life is a self-referring social construct whereas nature is fascinating!
PS I’m 70 this year.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:23 am

Agreed. Culture has almost hallucinogenic effects on our perceptions. We literally see things that aren’t there in the structure of reality, and there’s no way to see them except to get outside the culture altogether, at least for a bit.

{ Reply }

Rocky April 18, 2022 at 4:36 am

Howdy David, I’m wondering if any of your new eating, or non eating habits have affected your sleep?
Thanks for the great post. I will pass it along. As I was reading it, I thought of friends and family members who could benefit from a different approach to eating. Also a few who have abandoned the myth of three meals per day.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:24 am

Good question. The day I fasted all day I had a lot of energy at bedtime so it took longer than usual to get to sleep. I did sleep soundly though. Overall my sleep seems slightly better.

{ Reply }

Jack April 18, 2022 at 7:07 am

I chuckled when reading the passage where your reader suggested not telling anyone about deviating from 3 squares protocol. I started eating one meal a day two decades ago and had the same experience when casually sharing my approach. Folks are immediately concerned that I’m starving myself regardless of the fact that I’m healthy and almost never sick. I began eating only meat, eggs and fruit a few years ago, basically nothing processed and was met with the same levels of horror and concern .

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:28 am

Oh wow, so great to hear how many people are already on board with this.

The horror reaction to deviating from the cultural standard is so silly, especially knowing that standard ways of eating are associated with a much-discussed public health crisis. But I do understand, because I had the same reactions for so many years.

{ Reply }

Victoria April 18, 2022 at 7:14 am

I agree, It’s very freeing!
I’ve been doing this for two years now, as a part of effortless weight control and better work routine, I do not eat till 12, I go straight to work instead (I work from home), I found that right after waking up my mind is the least depressed and cluttered, and I decided I don’t want to waste this time on food prep\eating. I don’t even get hungry before 12 now, as my body is used to the routine. Between 13-15 I always feel my mood slump, so I just use this time for chores or rest, and resume work after 15.00. I eat again at 17-18.00 and that’s it. I think 3 meals are not important, but regular food intake is, I do not think hunger and hunger pains are healthy, at least not for me. For the same reason I do not partake in fasting, perhaps it’s different if someone eats more calories each day, and they have excess.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:33 am

I am interested in learning more about the physical experience of hunger itself — I did not experience any hunger pangs or pains during my first 36-hour fast, except the odd feeling of “Hey I would totally go for a hamburger right now.” I used to think that any feeling of hunger not met with food was somehow damaging the body. It seems preposterous to me now.

{ Reply }

[email protected] April 18, 2022 at 7:23 am

It sounds like this is another way to take back time in your life. Just like becoming financially free can give you time back from the 9-5 work day, fasting gives you back time to do what you want.

Also, the low-energy states after eating could improve by what you are eating but I agree that most of the time, it is unavoidable.

Please keep us updated as you go through this experience! I am excited to learn how this helps you.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:35 am

Thanks. I think you’re right — the energy drop from digestion depends on what and how much is eaten, but that to some degree it’s unavoidable because digestion is an intensive process.

The experiment log already has a week of entries in it if you want to see how it’s been going:

https://www.raptitude.com/raptitude-experiment-no-32-fasting/

{ Reply }

Fred April 18, 2022 at 7:43 am

What a blessed message to come at this time. A few days ago I decided I would live better if I lose about 10-15 pounds. The easiest way to drop weight is simply don’t eat. Today marks the 4th day my breakfast will be a cup of coffee and my lunch will be a couple of pieces of fruit. It’s a way of blessing myself as in — bless yourself for a blessed life. May you be in love with your curiosity. Thanks .

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:36 am

I hope it works for you in a sustainable way. I recommend getting a good book on fasting or time-restricted eating, because there are some things to take into consideration. I read Jason Fung’s book and Gin Stephens’s book and liked them both.

{ Reply }

Jon April 18, 2022 at 7:47 am

Great review article. I’m been doing time restricted feeding (16 off, 8 on) for about 4 years. It gets easier with time and your body adapts. I would recommend the ZERO app to track. I’m done a number of 3-6 day fasts an those are much more difficult to pull off for me as the hunger really has a negative affect on my sleep.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:37 am

I will check out the zero app. Sleep on my first full fasting day took longer to come but felt more restful. I’ll see what happens with the longer fasts.

{ Reply }

Susan April 18, 2022 at 8:02 am

Having gone down this path over the past 4 years, I understand and agree with one caveat: fasting can affect women differently. OMAD eventually damaged my thyroid and adrenals and it took well over a year to recover–and I’m still working on it.
Everyone is different and can have different outcomes. I just simply suggest that women do some extra research before they begin this lifestyle and pay very close attention to how long-term fasting is affecting them.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:38 am

Agreed. I wouldn’t recommend this to anyone who has not done research first.

{ Reply }

Pam April 18, 2022 at 8:09 am

I’m not going to join you on this one, but I hope the outcome is everything you wanted.

{ Reply }

Sonia April 18, 2022 at 8:19 am

I’ve always had a feeling that while food is physical but the concept of meals are cerebral.

In Indian villages, including mine, people eat only twice a day. Once when they go to the fields and once when they return. There are two annual fasting weeks called the Navratras. Most people fast different during these – either they stop eating grain and only eat fruit, raw vegetables, and milk. Then there are others who eat fried potatoes everyday because it’s allowed AND in the name of religious celebration.

So, yes. Different boats and different storms.

Personally, I eat very little breakfast. Maybe one piece of bread and two pieces of fruit. And that’s good enough. Twice a week, I skip breakfast. And it feels normal.

One of the many pros of skipping meals is that you aren’t enslaved by your hunger anymore. If you keep eating full three meals everyday, you get pangs around meal time or it gets harder to wait before eating.

I don’t meant starve yourself. But consciously missing a meal is not such a big deal as people make it out to be.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:42 am

That is true in my experience — hunger is a highly reflexive feeling, not based on reliable signals from the body but mixed up in psychological and emotional expectations around mealtimes.

{ Reply }

Jeff April 18, 2022 at 8:35 am

You are not alone. At age 79 I found myself needing to lose weight. I was 210 and wanted to return to my Army weight of 180. My PCP suggested fasting of some type and after trying several patterns I decided on one meal a day. My wife decided to follow and we have been eating a lot of salad, and a protein, and small portion of a starch or fresh vegetable, and for me, in surrender to my addiction, a sweet for desert. Over several months I’ve lost 11 lbs. and am able to walk from 1 to 2 miles 4-5 times a week. The dog gets tired. I occasionally miss pancakes for “breakfast” but don’t see myself ever going back to the 3 meal habit.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:48 am

I’m glad to hear that doctors are starting to suggest responsible fasting as a method of sustainable weight loss. It’s probably easier for most people to restrict when they eat than to continue to eat all day but always be restricting what and how much at every meal. One of the joys of eating one meal a day is that a reasonable dessert doesn’t put you into excessive caloric territory. It takes us out of the mindset of balancing virtue and indulgence. Instead we can divide the day/week into the times we eat and the times we don’t at all, which removes so much of the need for constant vigilance and self-negotiation.

{ Reply }

woollyprimate April 21, 2022 at 7:44 pm

“One of the joys of eating one meal a day is that a reasonable dessert doesn’t put you into excessive caloric territory. It takes us out of the mindset of balancing virtue and indulgence.”

Exactly! I like the feeling of being really full. I find that a lot of women eat like birds all day and never really get filled up (at least that’s my experience at lunch with my fellow female coworkers). I don’t want to just eat enough to take the edge off the hunger. I want to eat until my body says, “Knock it off! Enough.”

If you are constantly eating all day, how do you know when you’ve had enough? If you’re afraid to gain weight, you’re always eating under your hunger drive. I want to get really hungry and then eat a lot of food and then do something else for the next dozen or more hours.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 22, 2022 at 4:35 pm

Same. More occasional = more special and less fraught

Kendra April 18, 2022 at 9:21 am

This is great! I’ve been skipping dinner a lot lately, like having a breakfast and then my main/last meal at 2 or 3 and I feel good with that. It definitely helps my sleep.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:52 am

Hey K. I was thinking that last time we went out to eat — your bedtime is so much earlier than mine that having dinner at 6 or 7 is like me having dinner at 9 or 10, which would be too close to bedtime for me to sleep well. Especially if it’s something like pizza and panna cotta :)

{ Reply }

Alexandra April 18, 2022 at 9:43 am

So cool to read about fasting here :) I have been exploring this for the past years myself as a way to treat an issue that medicine had no answer for…did numerous fasts including a 28-day supervised water fast which was an incredible but challenging experience. Glad to say I am well now but it took an immense amount of work.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 9:54 am

Wow, that sounds intense. I’m glad it has worked for you. Fasting seems to have a lot of potential in health care. Not that it’s a new idea — people have been treating illness with it forever — but it’s great that Western culture is rediscovering it and studying it properly now.

{ Reply }

Alexandra April 18, 2022 at 12:55 pm

Absolutely! Lookup dr Alan Goldhamer. He has been running True North for more than 30 years I believe. Dr. Valter Longo did some incredible research as well.
It´s a fascinating field with many directions. The American way of water fasting is very different from the Russian one ( the Goryachinsk clinic is the standard there).

{ Reply }

Vic Ramano April 18, 2022 at 9:43 am

Excellent writing. Direct and to-the-point. I like that.

{ Reply }

Donna April 18, 2022 at 9:58 am

I have been practicing IF for quite a few years now. I try a to maintain 18/6; and maybe OMAD 2x/week. I practiced IF during the retreat in Nanaimo in 2018, which was interesting. I’m doing so so for health, weight loss, gaining my future as it were. The time savings as you’ve noticed, is huge! Prep, eat, clean up time, shopping, as well as the budgetary savings too.
Then there’s the other stuff – awareness of sensations – dealing with the cravings, and whatever other chatter of the mind that occurs…

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 2:46 pm

Hi Donna. I didn’t get into the relationship between contemplative practice and fasting, but that’s a big part for me. It’s an ideal opportunity to practice because cravings and other inner phenomena do come up. I’m going on retreat at Cloud Mountain in September and I think I’m going to opt for the extra precept to not eat after the noon meal.

{ Reply }

Alice April 18, 2022 at 9:59 am

I can’t go too long without eating without getting shaky and “hangry.” I have no idea how you go a whole day without eating. Having said that I too dislike how eating meals carves up and in many ways controls the day. I wish I could fast and feel as light and airy as you do.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 2:54 pm

I would have said this too a few years ago. If you’re accustomed to regular meals, it feel weird to skip a regular meal, because the brain and body expect it. The first few days of not eating breakfast, for example, felt weird for me, and I worried I would get “hangry” or otherwise dysfunctional. But it doesn’t last. Hunger pangs come occasionally, but they don’t persist. The belief that eating must happen at a certain time is a self-fulfilling prophecy — as long as you do, deviating from the pattern feels strange. But the body adapts to a new pattern quickly, in my experience, and many others describe the same thing. So it may not be off limits to you just because of previous experiences of missing meals.

{ Reply }

Citrus Simon April 18, 2022 at 10:04 am

I look forward to reading your experiment with the fresh raw produce David. And your reaction to leaving behind the cooked foods for a period of time. You seem to put your whole self into things when you get focused, so i think you will do well.

{ Reply }

Sebastian April 18, 2022 at 10:11 am

You’ve inspired me yet again! I’ve been tying out intermittent fasting, but I still tend to eat way more than I should (and too often fall into eating stuff I shouldn’t, like bread and syrupy coffee drinks).

I’m going to join you in a simplified version: One main meal a day (dinner), and otherwise only a green drink or a piece of fruit in the afternoon (especially if I’m going to be out hiking or out on the kayak). And of course water. I’m assuming you’re still drinking plenty of water.

The hard part is going to be joining you in fasting all day every Tuesday. But let’s do it. I’m in!

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 2:57 pm

Good luck! I would do a bit of research first before doing an all-day fast. There are a few things you need to know to do it safely.

{ Reply }

Sebastian April 18, 2022 at 10:14 am

Incidentally, I’m already almost entirely raw vegan at this point. My main meal, often as not, is a delicious Ka’Chava smoothie w/ blended greens, frozen blueberries, raw cacao, and goji berries. Adding in the green drink in place of an afternoon meal should make for a nice further boost in minerals.

{ Reply }

Sharon Hanna April 18, 2022 at 10:14 am

Hi David – thanks. Enjoyed as always your humour. Something that made me want to comment was that many folks felt it was a waste of time to prepare food and cook etc. That doesn’t seem very mindful….or grateful?? Something missing there. But that’s me – Miss Judgmental.

Anyhow I do love to cook so….there you go. Plus I grow food (and attempt to grow it, ha) in my back yard which is pretty much entirely a food garden lined with flowers/shrubs on the edges. And eating what has come out of the garden – perhaps the first shoots of asparagus – is quite something. Not a chore to eat at all and actually hard to describe. Connected??

I haven’t eaten three meals a day for as long as I can remember; most people I know are the same. It’s the ‘dinner’ I enjoy preparing ….and the wine that goes with it.

{ Reply }

K Macgregor April 18, 2022 at 12:46 pm

I’m with you on this – it is just such a satisfying feeling to eat a meal that came from your own garden, your own love and labour. Sometimes in the height of summer when so much is ready we just wander through the garden and eat veggies fresh tight off the plant and that’s our dinner. It seems like such a miracle to watch little seeds transform into improbably big and colorful fruits (eggplant being my favourite for this).

This morning I made lemon berry waffles with wild blackcaps we picked last summer. We’ll be eating them for breakfast all week and remembering picking them, warm from the sun, and looking forward to doing it again this summer. I think you picked the right word – connected – to the land and to the labour that underlies our food and to the changing seasons.

Of course not everyone likes gardening or has a place to do it. My mom gardens, but only flowers and tomatoes. She doesn’t really get much enjoyment from food and if she could just get all her nutritional needs from a pill she would. I always wonder if this is a difference physically in how she experiences flavour or if it’s the exhaustion of having to shop and cook and provide meals for her family for decades, not by choice but by obligation, that took the shine off.

{ Reply }

Sharon Hanna April 24, 2022 at 7:57 pm

Thanks for acknkowledging my post. My two children were born a bit more than 12 years apart – so I cooked for a long long long time and luckily really enjoyed it. I’ve written two books – with recipes….about kale actually. The Book of Kale and then another one. I find cooking creative; I find shopping for veggies or groceries to be a way that I connect with folks. Since I now live alone, especially.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 3:07 pm

I love to prepare and eat food too, but that doesn’t mean I need to devote several hours a day to prep/cleanup/shopping. In fact I’ve really been enjoying preparing only a single meal — I can justify the time to make something unusual or elaborate, because of time saved elsewhere. Every day only has 24 hours and there’s a lot I want to do with those hours. Preparing food once is enough. Everything I do takes forever, and I’m so glad to have several more hours per day to do other activities that are just as worthy of gratitude.

{ Reply }

Richard April 18, 2022 at 10:32 am

Hi, I’m so glad a member of my Keto group post this in our group. I began Keto nearly 5 years ago to address a couple of autoimmune diseases that drugs were doing nothing for, and intermittent fasting became part of my healing regime a few weeks later. My autoimmune diseases were down and done with in a matter of months, but over the next year I also realized that many of the little issues that I’d racked up to just getting old were really symptoms of not just a poor diet, although I was eating was “they” said was healthy, but I was eating this all too frequently as I too believed that my body “required” nutrition all day to function, well I function much better when I’ve not eaten.
I vividly remember the looks I got from family and friends when I told them I don’t eat bread or fruit, they were both concerned that I wasn’t getting enough nutrition to be healthy, but when they’d heard that now I wasn’t eating not just all day, but sometimes several days with no food, they about fell over. Sadly in spite of me overcoming 2 autoimmune diseases and several other “old age” issues very few of my family and friends chose to follow me, instead they live with their ailments and complain daily while popping their pills.
Changing one’s eating patterns and going against the tide creates an opportunity to look critically into why we do things, as you pointed out with bananas. I now look at everything through my new glasses and not simply accept things for what they seem to be. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences. Richard

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 3:17 pm

I’ve heard a lot of encouraging stories like this one — a health problem resolved quickly by shifting to different way of relating to food and eating. It’s early on in my own experience, but I’m interested to see if there are long-standing issues that clear up, or just what else changes. The tide is changing I think. Research is underway and a surprising number of people have already moved on to a non-standard eating paradigm. It’s a good time to be alive.

{ Reply }

K Macgregor April 18, 2022 at 11:11 am

I never thought of eating 3 meals as being a social construct. I just wake up ravenous, I eat food, then four or five hours later I’m hungry again, so I eat again, and four or five hours later I’m hungry again so I eat again. Four or five hours later I’ll be hungry again so if I’m staying up late I’ll have a snack. Otherwise I just go to bed before I get very hungry. On days when I don’t have time to eat in the morning, I find it distracting to he so uncomfortable and hungry, and if I’m at work it can be embarrassing to be in a meeting with my stomach rumbling loudly during pauses in conversation. I also don’t like feeling weak and shaky if I don’t eat for a long time. However, my mom doesn’t eat breakfast and says she just isn’t very hungry in the morning. I assume like most things that everyone is different, but I would guess that 3 meals a day derives from the most common experience of hunger.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 3:30 pm

This is basically how I interpreted my bodily feelings for a long time too — if I don’t eat, my body produces uncomfortable feelings, signaling that I must eat NOW or else it will get worse or just persist. So I always would eat because I thought it was wrong or harmful not to, which just perpetuates the pattern.

Here’s a different hypothesis you may want to test out:

-if you were to switch to not eating breakfast (for example) you would feel that ravenous feeling only the first few days, then it would stop, because your body and mind aren’t expecting the same pattern of blood sugar rises and drops.

-physical feelings of hunger wouldn’t persist very long anyway if you just went on to the next part of your day.

Both of these are common experiences among people who fast. Our experience of hunger seem to be shaped by our accustomed eating patterns, and when the patterns change, the body does not get hungry at the same times. In other words, the eating pattern causes the hunger pattern more than the other way around. People around the world eat at wildly different times so I don’t think human physiology is dictating a standard 3-meal regimen.

{ Reply }

sandybt April 18, 2022 at 12:33 pm

There’s also the social value of gathering household members together at culturally established meal times. Food consumption is more than just a physical need or activity. Although the article does mention social practices in past times, it seems to put more emphasis on individually determined eating habits rather than the communal aspect.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 3:37 pm

Yes, agreed. There is a lot of social value in eating and that is my favorite part. I live alone so that gives me a lot of flexibility most days (and also reduces the reasons to eat like other people).

However, I don’t know many households who eat all three meals together, so eating three meals a day for that reason isn’t going to make sense for most people. Generally, the meal people eat together in Western culture is dinner, and that’s the meal most fasting people have every day or almost every day. If a person decides to eat less often, it makes sense for them to have their meals when they can do so with others.

{ Reply }

Betty April 18, 2022 at 12:37 pm

I haven’t eaten an evening meal in 20 years. I had severe acid reflux and was on medication, but decided to stop meds and try to not eat anywhere near bedtime. It took a while to get used to, and at times I felt a bit nauseous at bedtime, but I woke up feeling fine. It didn’t affect my sleep-in fact it helped since I didn’t have reflux which was painful. I rarely eat or drink anything after 1pm and I go to bed at 11pm.
I’ve seen pics of some famous people who only eat one meal a day, and they look rather gaunt. I would never go to one meal a day unless that was all that was available.
David, I always like your writings. Thanks!

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 3:38 pm

We are all different cases, for sure. I’m glad you found something that worked for you.

{ Reply }

Brian April 18, 2022 at 1:00 pm

Intermittent fasting includes any and all of time-restricted eating (e.g. eating in a 4 to 8 hour window of the day), eating 5 days and not 2 (as you’r planning) and full-on fasting for 24 hours or more. None of these mean fluid restriction; lots of fluids will help your body eliminate the toxins that will necessarily arise. People on medications for diabetes should take appropriate precautions and consult their health care provider, although few are au courant with the benefits of intermittent fasting, especially in diabetes. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid, and it’s not child’s play i.e. don’t encourage/allow children to participate.
When I fast intermittently and feel hungry I reframe it as “there’s that sensation I call hunger” to divorce it from the usual duet of “I feel hungry so I should eat”.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 3:41 pm

Yup, people should definitely read about this before they do it.

Hunger sensations are interesting and mysterious — I used to interpret them as clear signals I should eat, but that led to overeating. It’s also odd how they change when your eating patterns change.

{ Reply }

Allan Fein April 18, 2022 at 3:31 pm

I have been on board wit this concept most of my adult life. Another additional benefit in a world with rising food prices, is the monetary benefit of eating less.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 18, 2022 at 3:50 pm

For sure… I’ve noticed that too, just in that I’m making fewer grocery trips. I’m eating less food volume overall (which I needed to because I was overeating) but it’s not just that — I’m making fewer meals in total, which means I’m buying fewer random ingredients that I just need a bit of. It has really scaled down the whole food-maintenance operation, saving time and money.

{ Reply }

Jenni April 18, 2022 at 3:54 pm

I love it!: have you been digesting all of your life? I did laugh out loud.
I used to fast 1-3 days a week in my twenties, and have been considering beginning again. Thanks for the push.

{ Reply }

Maura April 18, 2022 at 4:11 pm

Great read! I’d done intermittent fasting (2 days a week very restricted calorie intake) previously and found that it was very doable, helped me see how much mindless, social and psychological eating I do. I feel clear, energetic and have my best exercise workouts on fasting days. I love to eat for comfort or out of boredom, so that’s where I struggle on fasting days. I fell off the fasting wagon but got back on a wk ago. Agree w/those that advise to keep mum on your fasting lifestyle — I find that many people have no problems picking apart my choice to do restricted eating, or poke fun at a meal of a hard-boiled egg, for example, and I feel that being around someone who’s fasting makes some people defensive about their own serving size or eating patterns. Our society has forgotten what a healthy BMI ‘looks like!’

{ Reply }

David Cain April 19, 2022 at 9:09 am

That’s definitely what I experienced — most of the “hunger” I felt was clearly a response to boredom, or just the sense that I usually take a break at this time so why not eat something.

It is a contentious topic, but I don’t intend to hide this from anyone. I’m happy to argue with anyone who takes me up on it :)

{ Reply }

Michael April 18, 2022 at 7:19 pm

This may work for some, but not for others. Before a flu shot led to severe and permanent disability in 2017, I was a competitive runner and ran two-a-day practices, usually around 15-18 miles a day, 5-6 days a week. I felt GREAT putting those miles in, but could not have done that without quality calories consisting of good quality protein and carbohydrates.

I think eating practices need to be suitable for one’s lifestyle. Lighter eating and fasting are great, on occasion, now that I’m not able to put in running miles.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 19, 2022 at 9:11 am

For sure. We are all different and have different needs. Obviously running daily half-marathons-plus would require a lot of eating.

{ Reply }

Jon April 19, 2022 at 10:46 am

Great post as always David and certainly good for thought(bad pun)… but I think it’s important to note the increased tendency for some to overeat when one skips meals… one of the dangers of intermittent fasting is the tendency to stack calorie intake into one sitting in a day.. what happens then is your digestive system is overloaded and this puts strain on, for example, the sphincter muscles that work hard to keep the contents of your stomach from refluxing into your oesophagus… I think overeating can explain the acid reflux epidemic we are currently experiencing … one of the best ways to avoid overeating (not to be confused with being overweight, a person can regularly overeat but still maintain a decent weight through fasting etc.) is to eat small meals regularly

{ Reply }

David Cain April 19, 2022 at 3:07 pm

I have heard people mention this as something to watch out for. I don’t think there’s much danger of consuming as many calories in one meal as in three normal meals. Just imagine the contents of those three meals all on the table together as a single meal — few people would overdo it by that much. However, we are all different of course. If somebody is using fasting to reduce overall calories, and has this tendency to massively overeat at dinner, it can be offset by fasting more often. In my case skipping meals reduced my inclination to eat too much when I did eat.

I’m sure eating many small meals works for some people, but it sure doesn’t for me. Each meal becomes its own opportunity to overeat, and none of the meals are satisfying. We each have to calibrate our own way of eating based on what is easiest and healthiest given our natural inclinations. Moving away from a culturally imposed structure allows us to do that.

{ Reply }

Ginette Robert April 21, 2022 at 6:28 am

If you feel better doing this. Good for you. But I just read this article to day and I thought it is something to be aware. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/20/health/time-restricted-diets.html?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&fbclid=IwAR2sqdEWqF2oDFNP8SAjnouQD7yrAwFQFD3uO82c0Cfj5eUDCG3BRJTDa4A

{ Reply }

David Cain April 21, 2022 at 9:45 am

Yes, I read that. Dr Weiss is a TMR skeptic who says he used to be an advocate, but he’s now dismissed it after doing two studies on it. It seems like he’s invested in particular findings, making moral criticisms of TMR alongside his findings. In this study they’re defining time-restricted eating as a daily eight-hour eating window, which is the maximal time window that could really be considered time-restricted eating. Even TMR advocates say such a large window would only have marginal effects for most people, aside from any caloric reduction that it results in. He did not mention anything about the effects of windows of 6, 4, or 2 hours that most people choose.

The diets given to the subjects are also strangely restrictive (1200-1500 kcal for women, 1500-1800 for men) which seems to muddle things. All the subjects lost significant weight on this crash diet of course, but Weiss did not detect a difference in weight loss between an eight-hour eating window and the slightly longer eating window most people naturally fall into. Of course, the headline is “Scientists Find No Benefit to Time-Restricted Eating.”

{ Reply }

woollyprimate April 21, 2022 at 8:07 pm

In addition to the book recommendations you’ve already gotten, I’d like to add Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book about fasting. It’s good. It goes into details about extended water fasting. I did 4 days once (would’ve done more, but I needed to move house and couldn’t afford to take it easy) and I had a pain in my thumb for a long time that went away (possibly arthritis).

Anyhoo, I’m with you that three or more meals doesn’t make sense. I tried intermittent fasting a while back and then last year I started eating OMAD on most days (and two on the other days, with an occasional “graze day” just to keep my body guessing what’s coming next, LOL). I do traveling medical work, and living in hotels doesn’t always allow for a lot of cooking. So, I eat out a lot. I tried one meal a day during a job assignment, and I was eating a lot of fast food for my one meal, and I lost weight!

Thoughts on hunger:

If memory serves, Dr. Fuhrman feels that if you are always in a fed state, your body has to put things on the back burner until it can get to them, like detoxing. So, once your body has finished digesting, it will start detoxing, the symptoms of which people interpret as hunger and then eat, which puts the detoxing on hold yet again.

You’ve already mentioned hunger being simply a signal that it’s the time you usually eat and that it’ll pass. I’ve found that as well.

I also feel that people eat as a way to get dopamine. There are three sources of dopamine: food, sex, and drugs. I’ve always wondered why people who quit smoking gain weight. When I was young, people were still believing in Freudian nonsense and said it was because they were orally fixated. Then I remember hearing that nicotine increases your metabolism (it may very well do that, I don’t know). However, I think I stumbled onto something. I started using nicotine lozenges during menopause, b/c I couldn’t think and focus well, and from my research nicotine was on par with caffeine. I’ve never smoked. Cigarette smoking is bad for you b/c of the smoke inhalation and the tar and other nasty chemicals. It’s not the nicotine that’s causing cancer and emphysema. Anyway, the point of this isn’t to turn everyone onto nicotine. One evening, I was craving something and was fighting temptation. I realized that I hadn’t had any nicotine that day and that maybe that would take my mind off things. Once I had the nicotine in my system, I realized that my cravings had gone away. Nicotine increases dopamine (as does food). So, I think some people eat to get more dopamine in their system, not because they’re hungry.

Anyway, looking forward to you experiment. I finally feel like I have control over myself and food and not the other way around.

{ Reply }

David Cain April 22, 2022 at 10:17 am

There is definitely something interesting happening with dopamine. When I’m fasting, a lot of my usual cravings go away, and not just for food, but for entertainment, for stimulation in general, etc. It even feels like some of my ADHD symptoms are improved. I don’t really know how dopamine works in the body, but on the subjective level it seems as though a fasted state seems to regulate it in some way.

That is the most interesting part of exploring fasting for me — how many people say it has brought some dysregulated part of their system to a better place.

{ Reply }

ruth April 22, 2022 at 9:34 pm

what did you mean by “be[ing] able to use all sixteen revolutions of the clock”?

{ Reply }

David Cain April 23, 2022 at 11:16 am

I mean that, on the day I didn’t eat at all, my day was sixteen undivided hours, because there were no meals partitioning the day into smaller segments of only a few hours.

{ Reply }

Elle April 28, 2022 at 11:18 am

I retired nearly 3y ago (age 58). Most days I eat only twice and some days only once. I eat if/when I get hungry often waiting for that first big growl.

I ate breakfast when I worked because in an operating room, one never knows when there might be time for a bite. Lunch was sometime between 1030 and 3pm. Then dinner w/hubster.

Life cycles……..

{ Reply }

Donna April 29, 2022 at 3:00 pm

I can quite relate to this. I’ve been doing restricted eating for nearly two years now and I know I feel better for it. However, where most folks who do IR tend to skip breakfast and use the afternoon and evening as their window, I’m the opposite: I generally stop eating ~1:00 PM and then “break fast” around 7:00 the next morning. And that’s after having gone for an early morning run. My eating schedule does make it hard to align with visiting family or with other evening events. I usually just don’t eat, or — with family — adjust my schedule as much as I can for everyone else. But I get a similar reaction when I tell people I don’t eat after 1:00 in the afternoon, that is, a kind of stunned disbelief followed by “I could never do that.” What helped me was to increase the protein and fats in my diet and watch the carbs; the carbs can send your blood sugar on a roller-coaster ride that feels awful. Hunger no longer scares me; I might notice a hunger pang for 3-5 minutes, then it’s gone! And lastly, I love, love, love not having to fix and clean up a meal in the evening, LOL.

{ Reply }

robert magda May 1, 2022 at 11:15 am

I have been on IF for 6 mos. an have lost 40 lbs. and I do one 24 hr fast per week. I would like some recipe’s of what you have after a long fast because I plan on doing a 48 hr fast in the near future.

{ Reply }

Leave a Comment

Desktop version

Raptitude is an independent blog by . Some links on this page may be affiliate links, which means I might earn a commission if you buy certain things I link to. In such cases the cost to the visitor remains the same.