The Negative Effects of Eating One Meal a Day: Study - Health Pick

The Negative Effects of Eating One Meal a Day: Study

There has been a lot of informal debate over whether eating one meal per day is a good weight loss and weight maintenance strategy. The available research indicates that a one-meal strategy is not the best way to lose weight or maintain a desired weight, and it may have some negative effects.


Deliberately eating one meal per day originated as part of the fasting practices of various faiths. For example, the Roman Catholic Church recommends that its members eat only one full meal during the holy days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during the penitential season of Lent, though they are allowed to snack at two other times during those days. Celebrities have also publicized their personal one-meal-a-day diets, including the former U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley A. McChrystal.

Higher Blood Pressure and Blood Sugar Levels

Two studies published in 2007 by U.S. government researchers in “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” and “Metabolism – Clinical and Experimental,” looked at what happened when middle-aged people of normal weight were given one meal per day that contained the same number of calories as an alternative meal plan consisting of three meals per day. People consuming only one meal per day had higher blood pressure and blood sugar levels than people eating three meals per day.

Weaker Immune System

In 2011, some of the same researchers published a third study on the effects of eating one meal per day in “The Journal of Inflammation.” This study, like its predecessors, also followed a group of healthy middle-aged people to see the effects of eating only once each day. The meal was designed to have the same number of calories as an alternative menu of three smaller meals per day. The scientists discovered that people eating one meal had less efficient immune systems than people eating three daily meals. A weaker immune system gives a person greater susceptibility to all kinds of illnesses. On the other hand, the researchers pointed out that some illnesses, such as asthma, can be aggravated by a healthy immune system overreacting to a perceived threat, and that reducing the immune system’s efficiency by lowering calorie intake would be a useful tool in treating some diseases.


Scientists are still uncertain about why eating one meal each day may have adverse medical consequences and are exploring various theories about potential causes. A 2012 study by Japanese researchers at Waseda University in Tokyo showed that when mice fed one high-fat meal per day were compared with mice fed the same amount of high-fat food split up into two daily meals, the mice who ate once a day gained more weight and had higher levels of insulin in their blood. The Japanese researchers theorized that various genes which control digestion in mice are strongly linked to circadian rhythms — the body’s 24-hour clock — and that feeding mice only once each day somehow disrupts how those genes work. The scientists suggest that these findings might apply to humans as well.


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