The Two Meals A Day Diet: Health Benefits + How To Guide

The benefits and risks of the two-meal-a-day diet, and how to follow it safely and sustainably.

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The majority of traditional weight loss diets provide specific guidelines about either what you can and cannot eat or when you can and cannot eat.

For example, with the vegan diet, you can eat any plant-based foods but cannot eat any animal-based foods. With the keto diet, you can eat fat essentially at liberty but consume very few grams of carbohydrates per day.

With various intermittent fasting protocols, there are designated fasting windows and designated eating windows, which dictate the timing of your food intake.

The two meals a day diet is unique in that it doesn’t dictate what you can or cannot eat or when you can or cannot eat. The only rule is that you eat only twice per day, no snacks, and no other meals.

There are several benefits to the two meals a day diet, as well as a few key pitfalls you should watch out for if attempting to follow it.

A person smiling while holding up a cut piece of steak, ready to eat.

What Is the Two Meals a Day Diet?

As the name suggests, the two meals a day diet involves consuming two meals a day. 

For many, the two meals a day diet is a method of intermittent fasting for weight loss.

For others, it may just be their regular preferred eating routine.

How to Follow the Two Meals a Day Diet?

Like many other iterations of intermittent fasting diets, the two meals a day diet does not place specific rules or guidelines on when you need to eat or which meals your two meals should be.

Some people who follow a two-meals-a-day eating plan may have breakfast and lunch but no dinner. Others go with lunch and dinner by prolonging the overnight fast and skipping breakfast, while others opt to spread their two meals as evenly apart over their waking hours as possible, going with a breakfast and dinner route.

Note that each of these meal terms may also be used quite loosely both in regards to when they are consumed and what foods are eaten.

For example, if you are following the two meals a day diet and want to frontload your eating for the day by having your first meal around breakfast time and your second meal around lunchtime (skipping dinner altogether), your ‘breakfast meal’ might be composed of foods that are not normally considered ‘breakfast foods.’

Instead of eggs, cereal, oatmeal, or toast, you might have lentils, quinoa, and a melange of vegetables.

Some research suggests that having a regular meal pattern, consuming more of your daily calories in the morning rather than later in the day, and having regular fasting periods may provide significant physiological health benefits.1Paoli, A., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A., & Moro, T. (2019). The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting. Nutrients11(4), 719. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040719

Two poached eggs and salad on a plate.

What Can You Eat On the Two Meals a Day Diet?

Ultimately, what you eat and when you eat on the two meals a day diet is entirely up to you.

However, whenever you take on an intermittent fasting-type diet, such as the one meal a day diet (OMAD) or even the two meals a day diet, it’s especially important to make your meals count.

In other words, the fewer meals you eat per day, the more important it is to prioritize the nutritional quality of your meals.

Essentially, you need to meet all of your nutritional needs through fewer food choices, so you can’t afford to fill up on empty calories.

In addition to choosing nutrient-dense foods, you also want to select foods that will be particularly filling and provide lasting satiety since there will be quite a number of hours between each meal.

How To Manage Calories When Following The Two Meals A Day Diet?

For many, the two meals a day diet is a form of intermittent fasting for weight loss. Therefore, it’s important to note that these shouldn’t be massive binge-like meals. Instead, you should have normally-sized, portion-controlled meals that are well-balanced and aligned with your total daily calorie targets.2Rynders, C. A., Thomas, E. A., Zaman, A., Pan, Z., Catenacci, V. A., & Melanson, E. L. (2019). Effectiveness of Intermittent Fasting and Time-Restricted Feeding Compared to Continuous Energy Restriction for Weight Loss. Nutrients11(10), 2442. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102442

In other words, you wouldn’t want to follow the two meals a day diet plan and end up overeating during each meal such that you do not create the caloric deficit you need to lose weight.

If you’re currently eating 1800 calories a day in three meals—averaging 600 calories per meal—and want to drop to eating twice a day—you’d want to essentially drop a full meal’s worth of calories rather than reshuffling your 1800 calories into two 900-calorie meals.

Then, you’d only be eating 1200 calories per day and creating a relative deficit of 600 fewer calories versus your prior diet. This, of course, only pertains to cases where you are doing the two meals a day diet for weight loss.

If you’re shifting to eating twice a day for other health reasons or other practical reasons, this caloric reduction may not be necessary or even ideal.

Additionally, in order to optimize the success of the two meals a day diet for weight loss, rather than just blindly scrapping one of your meals, it is best to do a little bit of “calorie math“ and consider your actual caloric needs to make sure that you are hitting optimal calorie targets for weight loss.

This will help ensure that you are eating enough calories when you drop down to eating only twice per day, particularly in cases where you are downshifting from a diet that includes three meals and multiple snacks. 

Moreover, your current diet may be well above your caloric needs, such that you are actually experiencing weight gain. Therefore, just dropping one meal might still not be enough to have a caloric deficit for weight loss.

A notebook that says calorie counting 1 apple - 130.

For example, imagine a woman with a total daily energy expenditure of 2800 calories.

If she wants to lose weight, the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends creating a caloric deficit of no more than 3,500-7,000 calories per week. Because it takes a deficit of 3,500 calories to lose one pound of body fat, this rate would yield 1-2 pounds of fat loss per week.3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2022, September 19). Losing Weight . Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/losing_weight/index.html

This works out to 500-1000 calories per day.

Let’s say she only wants to manipulate her diet because she’s already working out 45 minutes per day and has a fairly active job. 

So, if she wants to generate a 1,000-calorie deficit, she would want to consume 1,800 calories daily.

With an eating pattern that involves eating two meals a day, this would work out to an average of 900 calories per meal.

Because you are restricting your eating only twice a day, the two meals a day diet can be a good way to control your caloric intake to facilitate weight loss.4Welton, S., Minty, R., O’Driscoll, T., Willms, H., Poirier, D., Madden, S., & Kelly, L. (2020). Intermittent fasting and weight loss. Canadian Family Physician66(2), 117–125. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7021351/

Check out our TDEE Daily Calorie Calculator to estimate your personal daily caloric needs.

A person noting down the calories in the dairy products he has next to him.

Is It Healthy To Eat Only Twice A Day?

There is no inherent need for humans to consume exactly three meals a day.

Therefore, eating only twice a day can be a healthy diet choice, as long as you are mindful of your eating habits in that your nutritional needs are still being met and you have sufficient calorie intake.

However, as mentioned, simply just cutting one of your meals without paying attention to the quality of what you are consuming and giving yourself adequate fuel for your day may not offer significant metabolic health benefits.

It should be noted that any sort of restrictive diet or attempt to eat less frequent meals may not be suitable or healthy for those who have struggled with eating disorders or other diet-related medical conditions and should be discussed with a medical professional being attempted.

Is It Better To Eat 3 Meals A Day Or 2 Meals A Day?

For those wanting to lose weight, eating two meals a day may be more beneficial than eating three meals a day, as long as individuals do not overcompensate for the lack of a meal by over-increasing the size of their two remaining meals, or overcompensating with snacking.

A person on her phone holding a bottle of juice, looking up the calories.

Why Am I Not Losing Weight When I Skip Breakfast And Lunch All The Time?

Rather than simply skipping meals at random, research suggests that reduced meal frequency is more effective when combined with a regular meal pattern.5Paoli, A., Tinsley, G., Bianco, A., & Moro, T. (2019). The Influence of Meal Frequency and Timing on Health in Humans: The Role of Fasting. Nutrients11(4), 719. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11040719

To healthily and sustainably switch to a reduced meal frequency-style diet, follow our 5 tips listed below to help see the best results.

5 Tips For The Two Meals A Day Diet

Here are some tips for following the two meals a day diet for weight loss:

A sing that says low glycemic index with food surrounding it, such as vegetables, fruits, cheese, and nuts.

#1: Know Your Caloric Needs

If you are adopting the two meals a day diet pattern for weight loss, it’s important that you know your caloric needs so that you can properly calculate the number of calories you should be eating in order to lose weight.

If you’re not sure how many calories you need to eat per day, check out our TDEE calculator to get an estimate of your daily calories burned.

Aim for a daily caloric deficit of no more than 500 to 1000 calories, which should be generated through a combination of diet and exercise.6Cutting Calories | Healthy Weight, Nutrition, and Physical Activity | CDC. (2020, August 17). Www.cdc.gov. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/healthy_eating/cutting_calories.html

#2: Eat Low Glycemic Foods

Make sure that you are making smart decisions about the carbohydrates that you are eating by choosing low glycemic foods like whole grains, raw vegetables, legumes, and low-sugar fruits.

The problem with consuming many high-glycemic carbs is that rapid and high spikes in your blood sugar destabilize your energy levels. When the pancreas responds by secreting a lot of insulin, your blood sugar levels can end up dropping too low, in a process termed reactive hypoglycemia, leaving you feeling fatigued and hungry all over again.

This will make it difficult to wait a long time for your second meal of the day and to have a prolonged overnight fast.

The word fiber surrounded by fiber-rich foods like seeds, veggies and fruits.

#3: Fill Up On Fiber, Protein, and Healthy Fats

Fiber, proteins, and healthy fats take longer to digest and will help keep you fuller for longer. These nutrients also help slow down the release of glucose into your bloodstream.7Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., Lemmens, S. G., & Westerterp, K. R. (2012). Dietary Protein – Its Role in satiety, energetics, Weight Loss and Health. British Journal of Nutrition108(S2), S105–S112. https://doi.org/10.1017/s0007114512002589

#4: Drink Plenty Of Water

Staying well hydrated will help prevent cravings that might be mistaken for hunger when you are actually just thirsty. If you eat only twice a day with many hours in between each meal, consider adding electrolytes to your water to help maintain proper electrolyte balance.

#5: Play Around With Meal Timing

Before creating a meal plan, try different patterns of scheduling your meals to see what works best in terms of optimizing your energy levels and keeping hunger at bay when only eating two meals a day.

If this diet looks as though it might work for you and your health goals, why not give it a try? Or have you been considering the one meal a day diet? For more information on the OMAD diet, check out our guide: OMAD Diet Explained: The Right Way To Eat Only One Meal A Day.

A bottle of lemon water.

References

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Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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