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1 Meal a Day – A History of How Eating Evolved

Tags: meal food

Outdoor restaurant in Paris old illustration. Created by Godefroy-Durand, published on L'Illustration, Journal Universel, Paris, 1858 showing 1 meal a day historyA Look Into Our History of Eating

I think we can agree that:

In today’s world, the concept of the omad diet, or simply eating 1 meal a day, is a concept that certainly raises a lot of questions.

These questions can stem from many influences, but most of these thoughts come from a mindset of being trained to eat 3 meals a day.

But, what if I told you it hasn’t always been this way?

As a matter of fact, the 3 meal a day mindset has been around for a much shorter time period than you realize.

So how is it that we’ve come so far from eating only 1 meal a day and actually become so dependent on food?

To make sense of the way of eating we have today, I took a look back in time to understand the evolution of these concepts.

Let’s take a look at our eating history, why we follow these eating patterns, and how they evolved.

The Influence of Marketing

signs showing how marketing influences the history of eating one meal a dayWe’ve grown accustomed to having three square meals a day which include breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

As a matter of fact, we’ve grown to love Food so much that we also throw in snacks during the day to simply hold us over until our next full meal.

So how is it that we’ve come so far from eating only 1 meal a day and actually become so dependent on food?

Manufacturers and marketers have pushed many of food habits we have today. Add in the simple fact that everywhere we turn there is a fast food chain, new treats, and easy access to snack machines, it has become obvious how this trend has originated.

We also can’t forget that we can always “supersize” are meals by simply paying more.

It wasn’t always this way, as a matter of fact, the 1 meal a day mantra or lifestyle was one which our ancestors followed. It was not only our prehistoric ancestors, but this was the case for several centuries to follow as well.

Think of the world they lived in. There were no fast food chains or pre-packaged meals you pop into the microwave and the concept of buying a candy bar when they were hungry simply wasn’t a possibility.

The 1 meal a day lifestyle was one they had to adapt to since food was so scarce. Since they were hunting and gathering the foods they ate, they simply didn’t have the luxury of more than 1 meal a day.

Not only was 1 meal a day the manner in which most people ate throughout history, it was the case for a majority of history.  This pertained to all different cultures which we see throughout the world.


Old illustration of dining coach in the imperial train offered from railways company to Napoleon III. Created by Gaildrau, published on L'Illustration Journal Universel, Paris, 1857For a majority of our history, breakfast simply wasn’t a food we consumed.

Eating was typically done during the latter parts of the day or evening as this was the only time people had to eat a meal. The Romans didn’t consume breakfast nor did the prehistoric hunter-gatherers.

As a matter of fact, these cultures typically only ate 1 meal a day and did so around noon time. This was not only to hold them over to complete their daily tasks, but it was truly the only food they had available for the course of the day as well.

The Roman culture actually believed it to be far healthier to eat only 1 meal a day.

Romans believed in the benefits of productivity and increased energy as they gathered their meals.  They believed this was an optimal choice rather than being weighed down by food.

During the middle ages, historians note how religion played a major role in society.  People simply were not able to eat prior to religious services, so they did not eat during the morning hours.  Breakfast was ruled out for people who were living during this time period as well.

The concept of breakfast (breaking the fast) was noted and took prevalence around the period of the 17th century.

During lent (on Shrove Tuesday) people could eat meat in the morning and foods prior to religious ceremonies simply to commemorate or to mark the beginning of Lent.

Social classes during this period in English cultures also began incorporating the idea of breakfast rather than simply following the 1 meal a day format. This became a social meal more than anything and during the 19th century became even more of a “social gathering or scene.” Aristocratic classes would consume up to 24 dishes during one sitting in the morning hours.

Jump forward to WWII and the 20th century, eating one meal a day was something which was non-existent in many cultures. As a matter of fact, breakfast was being promoted as the most important meal of the day so soldiers could have the energy they needed in order to fight in the war.

It was also during this period when pre-packaged cereals, toasters, and other “easy to use appliances” made their way to the forefront of American and English cultures. Since foods were rationed and hard to get during the war period, society began pushing forward the “ready to eat meals,” or those you could eat on the go.


Old illustration of a banquet in Batavia offered by French consul. Created by Engelu, published on L'Illustration, Journal Universel, Paris, 185

In the UK, and other regions outside the US, lunch and dinner have different timings or meanings.

For some, lunch is the largest meal of the day while other cultures make dinner the largest meal.

Lunch (in today’s society) wasn’t even an idea during Roman periods. They ate their 1 meal a day during the noon hour, but this meal was called dinner. It was the only meal they consumed during the day, meaning it was going to hold them over throughout the entire course of the afternoon and evening hours.

The middle ages and lack of electricity meant the 1 meal a day was eaten based on daylight hours. People were typically hungry mid-day and this was typically when they ate their meal. During this period people went to bed and woke up much earlier and daylight dictated how they lived their lifestyle.

Working classes typically ate during the noon hours, which typically consisted of bread and cheese. It was during this period where the wealthier classes began introducing the notion of more than once a day and also began eating in the evening hours.

The term “lunch” has a distinct history and different historians have different ideas about how it developed.

One is that it came from the Anglo-Saxan term “luncheon”, which was a quick snack that you hold in your hands and is consumed “in between” meals.  Another term which took form around the 16th and 17th centuries, which was a term meaning the meal consisted bread (a sandwich)was the French term “souper,” which was prevalent during the 17th century.

In the 1750s the Earl of Sandwich would order workers to bring him meats in between bread.   We know this today as the “Sandwich”, which is one of the most common lunch time meals we consume.

The Industrial Revolution is the period of time which truly shaped “lunch” as we know it today. Since middle and working classes were in the field or working during the day, noon hour meals were a must. It was during this time eating lunch become a lifestyle.  This eating was shaped more out of hours rather than hunger.

It was not until the 19th century when chop houses and restaurants began popping up, which workers would visit during lunch hours. Bringing lunch to work was the only way to have a meal during the noon hour prior to this time in history.

Canteen meals were popular when food was rationed in the 1930s and during the WWII period.  Food vouchers made sandwiches a simple and affordable option for soldiers and workers living during this period.


Old illustration of family meal. Created by Janet-Lange (sculp. Best, Hotelin and Regnier) after painting of Le Nain brothers. Published on Magasin Pittoresque, Paris, 1850The one meal a day the Romans did consume was dinner.  In the UK, dinner became the prevalent option during the middle ages.

It was the aristocratic class which consumed these lavish meals and typically ate several different dishes during this time period. Since there was no electricity during this period, cooking in the evening hours was impossible, so peasants and lower classes ate their 1 meal during the afternoon hours.

In the 17th century with artificial lighting, dinner began being eaten later in the day.

In towns and cities, by the 18th century was the period of time by which most people were eating the “three square meals a day” as we’ve come to know it.

Some cultures still followed the 1 meal a day lifestyle, only consuming dinner on Sundays.

In the 1950s the arrival of the TV to the US made “TV dinners” a family tradition.  Sitting in front of the TV watching late night shows, films, news, and eating dinner became common in American culture.

The Cordon Bleu was also born in the 1970s out of boredom. Middle-class women who were bored with lack of self-expression began tinkering with new ideas in the kitchen and the beloved meal was born.

Traditional family dinners came to an end around 1986 when the idea of the microwave meal was born.

Although it’s taken quite some time to make its way to our hectic lifestyles today, the concept of eating more than 1 meal a day simply wasn’t part of our culture for several centuries.

Processed foods and “ready to eat meals”

Ready to eat microwave mealIt was probably around the time that microwave meals, packaged meals, desserts, and snack foods came to the forefront of US and UK cultures that the 1 meal a day or omad diet died.

As mentioned above, this was in 1986 when the first microwave meal was brought to the US and gave us the liberty of simply placing a meal in the microwave and having it ready to eat in a matter of minutes.

The packaged meals we eat today, which include various vending machines we can find in any office or working place, make everything convenient.

The ability to simply go to any local fast food chain or restaurant at practically any hour of the day are all things that have taken us away from the one meal a day concept.  Add in the easy snacks into the day as well, and we are consuming far more calories than our ancestors and ancient cultures were consuming.

With more food, comes more problems and health risks

health risks from eating junk foodIf we look back to prehistoric periods, we do not find people dying because they were obese, overweight, or unhealthy. As a matter of fact, these people were not at all fat, they were extremely lean.

Why is this?

The simple fact that they were active by running, gathering, and hunting as a means to survive.  These people did not die because of diabetes, obesity, or other health risks tied to weight as with many of the cases are associated with today.

People died because of lack of proper medical care, being eaten, or otherwise getting killed in the wild.

In the Roman times and biblical periods, we can also find that most people were following something similar to the omad diet. They were often healthy in terms of weight.  People during this period were dying from religious persecution and lack of doctors.  There were also no sewage systems for clean water to drink.

The fact of the matter is that with more foods (typically the processed foods we love to eat) we see there are more health risks than ever. The obesity epidemic is something which is not going away and people are consuming fast food more than ever.  People rarely go one day without eating foods which aren’t processed or contain high amounts of fat.

When we look back throughout our history, the 1 meal a day lifestyle was one which was born out of necessity. The simple fact that people were not able to go through fast food restaurants, or have access to foods they wanted any hour of the day, made it impossible for them to eat more than once per day.

When we take a look back through history, we also can note the health risks tied to obesity began when the 3 meal a day concept was embraced.   We simply do not see obesity in high numbers in areas of the world where food is rationed or hard to get.

We do not see people dying from health risks tied to being overweight. These are issues we tend to see in the US and richer regions of the world where food has become so prevalent among many.  To some, it is the most important thing they consider during the course of the day.

Why did food catch on?

A vector illustration of Fast Food RestaurantSo why exactly did the 1 meal a day lifestyle die out?

Why did people who followed the omad diet, or a version of it, begin to eat more during the day?

Of course, there is more than one reason for this. Some of them include:

1. Wealth. It was seen as opulence  It was viewed as an aristocratic lifestyle. Being able to consume several dishes and prepare several meals during the day was viewed as something only people with means or those who were wealthy were capable of doing.
2. It grew out of simplicity. The fact that food became more prevalent, electricity became readily available, and the fact that we began seeing pre-packaged meals or microwave meals, were all reasons we began purchasing and consuming these foods.
3. The idea of “more is more”. In today’s society, anywhere you go you are asked if you want to “Supersize” your meal. It is not only cheaper to do so, but it is pushed on you nearly anywhere you go to dine out.
4. It has become ingrained in our minds. We heard the doctors tell us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so we consume it. We need to eat three meals a day, so we do.When we feel hungry, food is right at our fingertips to enjoy instantly.
5. We see it everywhere. Nearly anywhere you go there is food offered to you. At parties, the movies, the mall, work,  and social gatherings. Food has become a focal point, a meeting point, and something which brings and ties us together. Regardless of your social class, or where you come from, food is something that is simply readily available to you and is easy to get.

The simple fact is that food is extremely cheap today.

If you go to any fast food restaurant it is far cheaper than purchasing your own foods and cooking a healthy meal from your home. This is just one of the main reasons why people opt to do this. It is also far more convenient.

You can simply go through the drive-thru window and have your meal instantly. There is no need to prep, cook, or do anything. Simply get home and eat.

Not only is this making our culture far unhealthier than it has ever been in the past, but is making the issue with obesity, weight gain, and other health risks something we are seeing in far higher numbers and figures than we have ever seen in the past.

The fact that food is so readily available to us and being marketed so aggressively all contributes to the problems we face today.

A look through history dictates why 1 meal a day is healthier

why 1 meal a day is healthierIt was not long ago that food really became the focal point of society in the world we live in today. It was not viewed as opulence or being wealthy until these lavish meals and dishes were introduced to different cultures and societies.

In contrary to what most people believe to be the case today, we do not need nearly as much food as we consume during the course of the day in order to survive, thrive, and live a healthy lifestyle.

As a matter of fact, with far less food we are not only more productive, but our figures and bodies are lighter.   In turn, we are far less likely to deal with the many health risks and concerns which are floating around our culture and society today in such high numbers.

Why is One Meal a Day better than 3?

Now that you’ve looked back at a brief history, why should you consider eating only one time daily as opposed to the three meals you are currently eating?

There are also many other benefits to the omad diet.  We are living in a time and society where food is simply the forefront of our day.

For many, it’s the first thing they think about they wake up.  For this reason alone, it has become prevalent for most of us to eat three times a day (some people eat even five or six times). But, when we look at it from a historical standpoint, we see this was not the case throughout history.

So is it something we should really follow or is the one meal option, which was done for several centuries the way to go?

Not only can eating 1 meal a day be healthier, it can teach you a disciplined way of eating.

It forces us to get rid of the extra calories that we simply shouldn’t be eating. For those who are considering a lifestyle change, consider the history of the omad diet and see why and how it will work for you.  It won’t take long to realize that it can make you far more productive and healthier than you are today.

Why did we follow these eating patterns?

BRASOV, ROMANIA - MARCH 23: Unidentified locals and tourists socialize over a drink in a sidewalk cafe on March 23, 2014 in Council Square in Brasov, 7th largest and the most visited city in Romania.Although most of these concepts of eating more than 1 meal a day grew out of aristocratic societies, today it is so simple to find tasty cheap meal options giving us more reason to eat.

We no longer eat out of necessity alone.

If you date things back to prehistoric times to when our ancestors and hunter-gatherer cultures were prevalent, you will notice that the meal they did consume, was one that grew out of necessity.

They would hunt, forage, and gather during the day only to find a safe place. This safe place would be where they could make their camp for the evening in order to cook and consume the meal they had killed for the day. The very next morning (daylight) they were up again and moving to a safe site to protect their families and were constantly in survival mode.

Moving on towards Roman cultures, we also see how prevalent religion was during this period, not allowing people to eat prior to religious ceremonies or rituals. It was also considered glutinous for people to consume more than the ration of food they needed simply to survive and to perform their work and daily tasks which had to be completed.

During this period of time, it was simply unheard of to consume more than 1 meal a day. Not only were people during this time period healthier, they were also more active, fit, and were toiling in difficult work out in the field. These are simply things we are no longer accustomed to and work we no longer do in today’s society.

Even during the industrial and early war-time periods, the 1 meal a day lifestyle was still prevalent in many regions of the world.   Most soldiers were eating early in the day during this period simply to have the force and energy needed as they were combating in war and required more energy to fuel themselves. It was also during this period when lunch and consuming more than 1 meal a day started to take its form mainly in UK and US cultures.

Today, we simply do not follow the 1 meal a day lifestyle. The omad diet has become non-existent in the traditional cultures. As a matter of fact, concepts like the omad diet are questioned by many. It is truly only those in the fitness world and those who have studied culture that tend to understand what we really need.  We simply do not require as much food as we tend to consume.

The post 1 Meal a Day – A History of How Eating Evolved appeared first on Omad Diet.

This post first appeared on Omad Diet - Eating One Meal A Day, please read the originial post: here

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1 Meal a Day – A History of How Eating Evolved


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