If you’ve ever tried dieting, then you’ve probably heard the age-old advice about eating your biggest meals earlier in the day and eating light near bedtime.
But is it true or just a myth?
Well, a new Spanish study suggests this advice could have merit. The study found that people who eat lunch after 3:00 pm may have a harder time losing weight than people who dine earlier.
The study followed 420 overweight and obese adults who were asked to follow a traditional Mediterranean diet. The participants who ate lunch later than 3 pm lost 25% less weight than those who ate lunch earlier than 3 pm.
Different Habits, Different Results
People who ate lunch later displayed an interesting habit…
They tended to eat a light breakfast or skip breakfast altogether much more often than people who ate lunch earlier. This could be one of the reasons they lost less weight than earlier eaters. All in all, people who ate a late lunch lost 17 pounds, whereas people who ate an early lunch lost 22 pounds. Both groups ate a similar amount of calories each day and slept the same amount of hours each night.
Because it was conducted in Spain, the study might not have the same impact in the U.S., as Spaniards tend to eat their biggest meal at lunch-time. But North Americans typically eat their biggest meal at dinner-time. That means an American eating an earlier lunch might not lose weight as effectively as a Spaniard eating an earlier lunch. Nonetheless, the study still provides a much-needed glimpse into the effects of meal timing on weight-loss.
“This is the first large-scale, long-term study to show that the timing of our main meal is an important factor in weight-loss success for overweight and obese individuals,” says Frank Scheer, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston.
At this point, you might be wondering why eating earlier could help you lose weight. What’s going on in the body that revs up weight-loss? Frankly, the researchers are not entirely sure. But scientists have their theories:
- Spacing it out: “Some studies have suggested that evenly spaced meals – eating every three to four hours – are helpful in weight control,” notes Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis.
- Clockwork: According to Frank Scheer, there’s a “master clock” in the brain that coordinates our sleep-wake cycle and metabolism. But there are also “peripheral clocks” in tissue and cells throughout the body. Unusual feeding times seem to disrupt some of the peripheral clocks and throw them out of sync with the master clock. This clock “decoupling” could affect weight control.
Remember, these are not definitive answers to why meal timing affects weight loss. More research is needed to come to a conclusion.
How Can You Take Advantage of This Information?
If you want to experiment with meal timing to help you shed extra weight, try out these tips:
- Instead of eating three big meals per day, eat five smaller meals throughout the day.
- Don’t leave long gaps between meals. Eat every three to four hours.
- Eat your biggest meal at breakfast or lunch rather than dinner. That way you’ll burn the calories throughout the day instead of storing them while you sleep.
Do you tend to eat your meals earlier or later in the day? Do you think meal-timing matters much when trying to lose weight? Let us know in the comments below!