How many meals and when

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Only total calories per day count. For the most part it doesn't matter when you eat them or how you spread them around the day, so long as your schedule stays pretty much the same, day in and day out. If, over the years, you've settled into a regular schedule of meals, there's no reason to change it; just adjust what you eat at those meals so the total calories comes out right. For most people, this means the regular three meals a day, and eating the same kinds of food at those meals you're accustomed to.

If you have an unusual eating schedule you're happy with, by all means keep it. Just divide the calories you need over the meals you eat in a reasonable manner. For various reasons dating back to the lifestyle of programmers in the bronze age of computing, I have long preferred one of the weirdest meal schedules of all. I eat basically one meal a day, about 7 or 8 hours after I awake. I supplement this, on occasion, with a light snack a few hours later. Virtually every diet book ever written considers this a prescription for disaster; most counsel eating more frequently than normal with less per meal. Indeed, for years I was a walking (or waddling) testament to this conventional wisdom. And yet, merely by adjusting calories per day, I lost 70 pounds and subsequently stabilised my weight while retaining the one meal per day schedule I prefer.

Meal schedule can affect how hungry you feel, how much energy you have at various times in the day, how well you sleep, and a host of other things. But, as long as it's regular, it doesn't have a whole lot to do with whether you gain or lose weight. So, stay with what works for you.

(One exception is worth noting. If you eat a large meal and then immediately go to sleep, all those calories are going to be lazily paddling around in your bloodstream for hours while your metabolism is at its very lowest level. Fat cells will start banking the extra calories and you'll end up packing on weight yet wake up ravenously hungry the next day [since all the calories were turned into fat]. There's an easy solution: don't do it. Eat meals early enough before retiring so your body has a chance to burn the calories.)

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