Can the timing of your meals make a big difference in weight loss results?
Growing research indicates that yes, it’s not just what we eat that can impact our waistlines, but when we eat those foods counts, too.
A new study zeroes in on a late lunch as a possible culprit that can slow weight loss efforts. The study followed overweight and obese participants in a 20-week weight-loss program. Both groups followed exactly the same Mediterranean diet-a well-established healthy eating pattern that was evenly matched for calories, nutrients, energy expenditure and even sleep time between groups. In fact, there was just one key difference: the timing of the meals themselves.
It turns out that that timing made all the difference. Subjects who ate lunch before 3 pm lost considerably more weight (on average 2.2 kilograms) than those who lunched later. Researchers noted that the late eaters “were more evening types, ”meaning that they ate smaller breakfasts or skipped breakfast altogether in favor of shifting their food later in the day.
Several studies confirm that skipping breakfast is associated with a higher BMI, a greater risk for obesity, and can drive unhealthy eating and snacking habits later in the day. In fact, one study published last year suggested that perhaps making breakfast your biggest meal of the day could be a sound strategy for weight loss.
Timing is everything
Given the growing evidence that the timing matters, especially when we are talking about maximizing results, here are three things to try now.
“Lean In” to a healthy lunch early.
The key takeaway from this study is that when all things are equal (remember, all of the subjects were eating healthy foods during a calorie controlled day), something as simple as timing might provide an additional edge. Set an alert at home or at work on your phone, block 15 minutes on your calendar, or consider have your lunch delivered to you earlier at your desk-all so you can finish lunch well before 3 pm.
Avoid skipping breakfast and late-night eating.
These two habits are fairly well established in the research as being linked to overweight and obesity. While it can take a some time to change long-practiced behaviors (see below), if you commit to waking up to a nourishing breakfast, you will find that your body soon transitions to actually crave it.
Stick with it.
In this study, both groups initially lost weight at a similar pace and amount; it wasn’t until week five that early started to accelerate their weight loss, suggesting this may be a strategy that plays out over a longer term.