Forget the Food Rules: Three Meals a Day Is Not the Only Way

If we want to eat well, we all know what to do, right? That’s because we’ve all be told time and time again about the necessity of three square meals a day, with breakfast being the most important meal of the day. This bit of conventional wisdom may be due for an update, and that’s because we may have been fed a bunch of nonsense. Eating as we know it — three meals a day and snacks in between — may not be the best way to eat for our health. We do it because that’s how it’s always been done. In reality, breakfast has gone in and out of fashion over time. Ancient Romans typically ate only one meal a day, around lunchtime. Throughout the middle ages it was common to eat two meals a day — a larger meal that included meat and wine around 11 a.m., followed by a lighter meal at dusk. Queen Elizabeth actually popularized breakfast with her morning meal of oat cakes and ale. It was, however, the Industrial Revolution that transformed the way we eat. Regular work hours, punctuated by short breaks to eat, pushed the main meal from lunch to dinner, and people suddenly had access to cheaper food to be able to make themselves a luxury meal like breakfast. Then came John Kellogg, who accidentally developed Cornflakes and promoted cereal as the way to start the day. Today, 9 out of 10 Americans dutifully eat their breakfast. Do we need three meals a day to be healthy? The short answer is no. Our metabolism won’t close up shop if we don’t eat as soon as we get up, and breakfast is not the most important meal of the day. There’s also no clear evidence that eating breakfast will jump-start our metabolism. The bottom line is that different patterns of our circadian rhythm affect when we’re hungry. As long as we eat mostly during daylight hours, allowing a couple of hours to digest before bedtime, we can eat to accommodate the different peaks and troughs of our hunger. We shouldn’t be bound by strict times, mainly because our metabolism isn’t static but responsive to what we eat and how we move. Setting up too many rules is not a good thing. What time you eat just has to work with your lifestyle and health status.