I am in the military and often unable to keep to the five or six small meals a day diet I favor.
This is usually because of obvious training or mission restrictions; sometimes, we’re only able to eat one meal a day, often very calorie-heavy and relatively unhealthy MRE (meal-ready-to-eat).
Does the body burn or store calories differently depending on how often one is able to eat and when? When I’m “stuffing my face” once-a-day versus eating 6 or even just 3 meals a day, does my body react differently in how it processes the food, even if it’s still the same number of calories overall per day?
— (Name withheld)
Fort Benning, Georgia
Although your body digests food the same way whether it’s getting one or six meals a day (in the sense that, for instance, proteins, fats, and carbohydrates are broken down by the same enzymes), it responds differently to different eating patterns.
Recent studies have found that people who commonly — and consistently — eat one large meal a day are at higher risk for developing diabetes and hypertension. Additionally, it is hard to sustain blood glucose levels on one meal a day, which can cause fatigue and dizziness.
From a nutrition standpoint, it is impossible to meet daily nutrient needs on one meal a day. This is one situation where you definitely want to supplement the diet with a multivitamin.
If you consistently eat one meal a day (we are talking for at least 4 weeks or so), you can expect your metabolism to be negatively affected. Your body will not burn calories as efficiently as if you were eating the same amount of calories in that one meal throughout the day.
PS: Since very large meals take much longer to digest than smaller meals, you definitely want to wait approximately 90 minutes before engaging in any strenuous physical activity for optimal performance.