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I'm trying to figure out if there's more than just tradition to the advice to eat three meals a day. Is the advice valid? Does it come from reliable sources?

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  • Less dishes to clean, less total time spent setting up the meal, more socially acceptable to eat with others at the regular times.
    – JoJo
    Oct 22, 2011 at 6:58
  • Questions need to have some connection to fitness, per the FAQ; this question needs to be oriented towards a fitness goal. i.e. Is eating three meals per day ideal for XYZ weight loss program.
    – G__
    Nov 19, 2012 at 18:51

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The BBC sheds some light on the history of the three-meals-a-day mindset:

Breakfast as we know it didn't exist for large parts of history. The Romans didn't really eat it, usually consuming only one meal a day around noon, says food historian Caroline Yeldham. In fact, breakfast was actively frowned upon.

"The Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day," she says. "They were obsessed with digestion and eating more than one meal was considered a form of gluttony. This thinking impacted on the way people ate for a very long time."

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During the Middle Ages daylight shaped mealtimes, says Day. With no electricity, people got up earlier to make use of daylight. Workers had often toiled in the fields from daybreak, so by midday they were hungry.

"The whole day was structured differently than it is today," says Day. "People got up much earlier and went to bed much earlier."

By midday workers had often worked for up to six hours. They would take a quick break and eat what was known as a "beever" or "noonshine", usually bread and cheese. As artificial light developed, dinner started to shift later in the day for the wealthier, as a result a light meal during the day was needed.

The article jumps around a bit, but the end result is clear: economics and the vagaries of culture and history have much more effect on when the majority of people people eat meals.

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It's a conspiracy.

Most people eat how they eat because of culture: it's how they were raised, or it's how their peer group acts.

There are good reasons to eat three times a day, and studies, but these are either exploratory (admitting that the ideal number, size, and composition of meals is unknown, and attempting to obtain data to lessen our collective ignorance) or ex post facto (taking what we already do, and attempting to prove that it's swell).

There are good reasons to eat three times a day, but they're not scientific studies. I'd bet that most people who eat three times a day do so for practical or social reasons: that's when they get a break from work, that's when it's socially acceptable, that's when it's expected, and...it's convenient to eat a few large meals, and I get hungry if I eat fewer than three meals in a day.

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