Ever wonder why people bolt from their desks at noon and head for the local coffee shop or deli? Surely not everyone gets hungry at the same time, right? Well, the lunch tradition—in fact, the tradition of eating three meals a day—can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages in Europe. As Mother Jones reports, the first European settlers to the Americas, who were used to eating a light breakfast and dinner and a heavy lunch, scoffed at the eating habits of Native Americans, who fasted and adjusted their food intake with the seasons. Europeans thought the practice was too similar to animal grazing and so "uncivilized" that they actually watched Native Americans eat "as a form of entertainment," a historian explains.
Though breakfast and dinner became the heavier meals over centuries, the three-meal system stayed largely intact. That's surprising, considering that meal times are actually "metabolically unimportant," Mother Jones reports. Studies have shown no difference in the weight, metabolism, or hormones of people who ate two meals a day and those who ate six, suggesting it's not significant when and where you get your calories as long as you get them. Apparently Native Americans actually had it best: A neuroscientist says periodic fasting may improve metabolism, while a recent study of mice suggests fasting can increase longevity, Science World Report notes. A weight loss and nutrition expert puts it like this: Eat when you're hungry, not when a clock tells you you should be. (Click for more on the benefits of skipping dinner.)