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Is eating 2 meals a day healthy?

Eating just two meals a day has become an increasingly popular dietary strategy. Intermittent fasting, a pattern of eating that cycles between periods of fasting and eating, has surged in popularity in recent years. One of the most popular intermittent fasting protocols is the 16:8 method, which involves fasting for 16 hours per day and eating all food within an 8-hour window. For many people following this method, it ends up looking like just two meals per day.

But is condensing your food intake into just two meals per day actually healthy? There are some potential benefits, but also some drawbacks to consider. This article reviews the research behind eating just two meals per day and provides science-based guidance on whether it’s the right strategy for you.

Potential Benefits of Two Meals Per Day

Here are some of the most commonly touted benefits of eating just two meals daily:

May Support Weight Loss

Several studies have found intermittent fasting, including patterns with just two meal times per day, may be effective for weight loss.

A review of 40 studies found that intermittent fasting was effective for short-term weight loss, with a typical loss of 7-11 pounds over 10 weeks (1). Other studies show that intermittent fasting is about as effective as traditional calorie-restricted diets for weight loss (2, 3).

There are a few reasons why limiting intake to two meals per day may aid weight loss:

  • It reduces overall calorie intake due to the smaller eating window.
  • The longer fasting period boosts fat burning.
  • It may help control hunger hormones.

If you’re looking to lose weight, eating two meals instead of three could be an effective strategy. But keep in mind that your total calorie intake for the day is the most important factor for weight loss, regardless of how many meals you eat.

May Lower Blood Pressure

Intermittent fasting has been shown to reduce blood pressure in multiple studies. This could be partially due to the weight loss it promotes. However, fasting may also directly impact blood pressure via other mechanisms, such as improvements in sympathetic nervous system activity (4, 5).

In one study, over 80% of participants with high blood pressure achieved normal blood pressure levels after 8 weeks of intermittent fasting (6).

Another study found that intermittent fasting for 12 weeks decreased systolic blood pressure by 7% and diastolic blood pressure by 5% on average (7).

Keep in mind that these studies looked at various intermittent fasting schedules, including alternate day fasting, fasting 1-2 days per week, and time-restricted feeding. More research is needed looking specifically at a daily pattern of just 2 meals.

May Prevent Overeating

Eating fewer, larger meals may help prevent overeating by reducing your opportunities to eat. Studies show that eating frequency has little effect on metabolism or body weight (8).

However, eating more frequently provides more chances to take in excess calories throughout the day, which could thwart weight loss efforts (9).

Conversely, limiting food intake to 1–2 meal times per day decreases opportunities to overeat and may help create an energy deficit to promote weight loss. Still, more high-quality studies are needed on two meals per day specifically.

Easier to Plan and Prepare Meals

Cooking just two meals per day is undoubtedly easier and more convenient than preparing three meals plus snacks. Meal prepping is simpler and grocery shopping requires less planning with fewer mealtimes.

Following an intermittent fasting protocol with 1–2 meals daily may be easier to stick to long-term due to its simplicity. This could make it a more sustainable lifestyle change compared to more complicated diet patterns.

May Reduce Heart Disease Risk

Some research indicates intermittent fasting could reduce several heart disease risk factors, including high cholesterol, blood triglycerides, inflammatory markers, blood sugar levels and insulin resistance (10, 11, 12).

This may be partly due to the weight loss it causes. But changes in hormones and gene expression are also likely involved (13, 14).

That said, human studies looking specifically at heart health and a 2 meals per day pattern are lacking. More research is needed.

Potential Downsides of Two Meals Per Day

Despite some possible benefits, eating just two meals daily may come with some potential downsides:

May Increase Hunger

Going long stretches without eating could increase hunger levels. Hunger tends to spike around usual mealtimes and may be more pronounced with big gaps between meals (15).

Those who are new to intermittent fasting often report increased hunger. However, it seems to subside after the body adjusts to the new eating pattern, which may take several weeks.

Strategies like drinking water, staying busy and consuming low-calorie beverages or snacks during fasting periods can help keep hunger under control.

Potential for Nutrient Deficiencies

As daily calorie intake decreases, there is an increased risk of micronutrient deficiencies over time.

Restricting meals could make it more challenging to meet needs for:

  • Iron
  • Calcium
  • Folate
  • Vitamins B12 and D
  • Zinc
  • Magnesium

Though no studies have looked specifically at nutrient status in those eating just 2 meals per day, more research is needed.

Eating a variety of nutrient-dense foods and supplementing when necessary can help prevent deficiencies.

Difficulty Eating Enough Calories

Consuming enough calories in just two meals may be challenging for some people.

Very large meals could leave you feeling uncomfortably full. And those trying to lose weight may find it easier to create too large of a calorie deficit with so few meal opportunities.

To maintain energy levels and nutritional status, it’s important to eat enough at your two daily meals. Getting sufficient calories to fuel your activity levels may require planning and portion control.

May Disrupt Social Occasions Involving Food

Eating just two meals daily could make attending birthday parties, happy hours, family dinners and other social gatherings tricky. Being able to participate in special occasions involving food is an important part of life for most people.

If you decide to try a two meal schedule, consider building in flexibility for social events. For example, you might decide to fast for 18 hours on social days instead of 16.

Can Be Rigid and Unbalanced Approach

Any dietary pattern that focuses on just one strategy, such as meal timing, may not be sustainable or balanced for long-term health.

While intermittent fasting has shown promise in research, more studies are still needed on its long-term effects and safety. Critics argue more focus should be placed on overall eating patterns vs any one food, nutrient or timing strategy (16).

To optimize health, your eating pattern should provide enough but not an excess of calories, be balanced with a variety of unprocessed foods, and work sustainably within your lifestyle.

Who Should Consider Two Meals Per Day?

Eating just two meals daily could be a reasonable option for some people but may not suit everyone’s needs.

Here are some of the types of people who may fare better with this meal timing approach:

  • Those looking to lose weight. The limited eating window naturally promotes a calorie deficit.
  • Busy people. Having just two eating occasions makes meal planning simpler.
  • People who prefer larger meals. Eating just two bigger meals may be more satisfying for some.
  • Those trying to improve heart health. Intermittent fasting has shown promise for improving some heart disease risk factors.
  • People without a history of disordered eating. Limiting intake to two meals could trigger unhealthy habits for some.

On the other hand, eating just two meals daily may not be appropriate for:

  • Growing adolescents. Youth have increased calorie and nutrient needs.
  • Active individuals. Athletes require sufficient fuel to support training.
  • Those prone to overeating. Larger, infrequent meals can lead to eating past fullness.
  • People vulnerable to micronutrient deficiencies. Higher calorie and nutrient needs make deficiencies more likely.
  • Women who are pregnant or nursing. Higher nutrient needs help support baby’s development.

In some cases, eating just two meals daily could do more harm than good. It’s best to speak to your healthcare provider before attempting this eating pattern.

Foods to Eat on a Two Meal per Day Plan

While no specific foods are required, filling your limited calorie intake with plenty of nutritious options is key to success on a two meal per day diet.

Here are some healthy foods to emphasize:

  • Protein foods: Meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, legumes, nuts, seeds
  • Non-starchy vegetables: Broccoli, bell peppers, leafy greens, zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus
  • Whole grains: Oats, quinoa, brown rice, farro, whole grain bread
  • Fruits: Berries, citrus fruits, apples, bananas, stone fruits
  • Healthy fats: Olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut oil
  • Dairy: Milk, plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, cheese

Prioritizing protein, fiber and plant-based fat sources can help control hunger between meals. Getting adequate amounts of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is also key to maintaining health on a limited meal plan.

Sample 2 Meal per Day Schedule

Here is an example of what eating just two meals per day may look like:

Meal 1 (noon):

  • Chicken salad made with 2 cups mixed greens, 3 ounces chicken, 1/4 avocado, grated carrots and 1 tablespoon olive oil-based dressing
  • 1 medium apple
  • 1 cup lowfat milk

Meal 2 (6 p.m.):

  • 3 ounces grilled salmon
  • 1 cup roasted Brussels sprouts
  • 1/2 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup mixed berries

This provides around 1,500 calories with a good balance of protein, fiber, healthy fat, fruits and vegetables. Beverages like water, unsweetened coffee and tea can be consumed as desired throughout the day.

Adjust portion sizes and ingredients as needed to meet your individual calorie, nutrient and food preferences. Splitting calories roughly evenly between meals helps control hunger.

The Bottom Line

Eating just two meals per day could have some benefits, like supporting weight loss and improving heart health. However, it may increase hunger, make eating enough calories challenging, and increase the risk of nutrient deficiencies.

If you decide to try eating two meals daily, carefully plan your meals and snacks. Prioritize nutrient-dense foods, stay hydrated between meals, and listen to your body’s cues.

Consider speaking to your healthcare provider before changing your meal frequency, especially if you have any underlying health conditions.

While eating just two meals per day may work well for some people, others function better with three meals or small snacks included. At the end of the day, it comes down to finding the eating pattern that optimizes your health and works best within your lifestyle.