Meal timing and weight loss: Does it matter when you eat?

Meal timing and weight loss: Does it matter when you eat?

Do you eat breakfast? Or maybe you skip it to cut calories. Have an early lunch or maybe you graze through the day.

In this article we will answer all your questions and more, just keep reading!

Does it matter when you eat?

Whatever your eating habits, research suggests varying when you fuel up maybe just as important as what you put in your mouth.

Diets that include a certain number of meals or snacks per day, with specific food choices at those times, maybe more effective for weight loss than diets that leave you to your own devices day after day, according to study reports appearing in the International Journal of Obesity.

"I think that meal timing is pretty important," said lead author Courtney Peterson, an assistant professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Alabama Birmingham.

"We know that even short-term fasting can cause changes in metabolism that may result in weight gain, so it's possible that if you're constantly delaying and skipping meals that it might have a negative impact on your weight loss efforts."

Peterson's team recruited 16 overweight and obese young adults for the first of two meal timing studies. For the first four weeks, they ate three meals and two snacks daily, consuming 30 percent of their energy needs at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and the remaining 70 percent of their energy needs to be divided among two snacks.

At the end of four weeks, they began a second four-week period in which they consumed the same number of calories, but their daily eating was evenly divided into three meals and no snacks.

 

During each four-week period, at the end of two weeks and four weeks, researchers evaluated participants' resting metabolic rates and carefully measured their total energy expenditure using a device called a metabolic chamber, which captures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide someone breathes to estimate their total calorie burn. Participants also completed computerized tasks to measure their levels of hunger and fullness at various points during the day.

Meal timing and weight loss

In a separate study, Peterson's team recruited 20 overweight and obese young adults for a meal timing study. For the first four weeks, they ate three meals and two snacks daily, as in the first study. This time, those meals consisted of foods that had a higher glycemic index than in the other study, and they ate 30 percent of their energy needs at breakfast and lunch, and the remaining 70 percent divided among dinner and the two daily snacks.

At the end of four weeks, they began a second four-week period in which they ate the same number of calories but consumed them more evenly across breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

As before, researchers evaluated participants' resting metabolic rates and total energy expenditure, as well as their levels of hunger and fullness.

In both studies, researchers found that when participants snacked all day and ate the bulk of their calories at night - compared to when they ate more evenly throughout the day - their resting metabolic rates and total energy expenditures were lower, suggesting that their bodies were conserving energy. Additionally, in both studies, participants showed higher levels of hunger and lower levels of fullness and reported more trouble staying on their diets when they ate all their calories later in the day.

"If you're trying to lose weight, it would be better for you to eat your calories earlier in the day because you're going to feel more full throughout the day and you won't be as hungry," Peterson said. "This might help to prevent late-night snacking and binging, which can sabotage weight loss efforts."

On the other hand, because people naturally expend more energy between 6 p.m. and bedtime than at any other time of the day, Peterson said it also may be beneficial to eat a larger percentage of your calories earlier in the day.

"If you eat a little bit more at breakfast and a little bit less at night, that could be a good thing," Peterson said. "The trick is going to be finding this balance between feeling satisfied while you limit your calories and while still losing weight."

Meal timing and weight loss

People who are trying to lose or maintain their weight should consider eating more earlier in the day and fewer calories later in the day, especially if they tend to be night owls who stay up late and snack while watching TV, Peterson said.

"If you can break that habit and get yourself on a schedule - eat earlier in the day and then stop eating around 6 p.m. - it would be better to eat those calories earlier in the day because it will leave some room for your dinner," she said.

Eating fewer calories later in the day could potentially make it easier for people to lose weight because nighttime eating often disrupts sleep. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults sleep seven to nine hours nightly.

"People who are getting less than seven to eight hours of sleep a night tend to have more hunger hormones," Peterson said.

"Sleep deprivation also makes us less sensitive to the effects of leptin, which is one of our satiety hormones. So when we're sleep-deprived, we tend to eat more and so getting the right amount of sleep is important for maintaining a healthy weight."

Peterson said more research is needed to determine whether changing meal timing could have long-term benefits, in addition to short-term ones.

"We don't know if changing meal timing would have positive or negative effects on weight loss in the long term because this study was only done over the course of a month," she said.

"We need to do additional studies to determine if these short-term effects can be maintained over the long term and whether this strategy is sustainable. We need to know more about the mechanisms behind these findings, as well as the best timing and composition of meals for different types of people."

Meal timing and weight loss FAQs.

How to time your meals?

There are a few things to consider when timing your meals.

First, you should know that it is not as important to time your meals as it is to just eat them in general.

Second, if you are concerned about overeating, then you can try eating more often but in smaller portions.

Third, if you want to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, then eating at least two meals and one snack per day is recommended.

What Are the Healthiest Times to Eat Meals?

There are many theories about what the best times to eat meals are. There is no one answer to this question. It is important to know your body and the way it works best in order to figure out what time of day you should be eating your meals.

The body has a natural circadian rhythm that determines when it should be eating and sleeping. Eating too late at night may lead to weight gain, because your body will be more inclined to store fat when it's not busy digesting food. Eating too early in the morning will also lead to weight gain, as well as sleep deprivation, because your body needs time for digestion before you go back into a deep sleep cycle.

Does when you eat matter as much as what you eat?

The short answer is no. If you’re eating a healthy diet, the time of day that you eat doesn’t matter.

However, there are some exceptions to this rule. For example, if you are someone who is unable to sleep at night because of their hunger pangs or if you need to finish up work and can't afford to take a break for lunch, then it might be worth considering when you eat your food.

The Bottom Line

In both studies, participants showed higher levels of hunger and lower levels of fullness and reported more trouble staying on their diets when they ate all their calories later in the day.

If you're trying to lose weight, it would be better for you to eat your calories earlier in the day because you're going to feel more full throughout the day and you won't be as hungry.

Eating fewer calories later in the day could potentially make it easier for people to lose weight because nighttime eating often disrupts sleep.

We don't know if changing meal timing would have positive or negative effects on weight loss in the long term.

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