It’s that time of the year again! Time to lose weight and get in shape after a season of holiday indulgences. Many of us jump on the treadmill, banish fast food, and kick sweets to the curb, only to fall back into our old habits once the “new” wears off the New Year.
Instead of going full-bore into a strict regime, I challenge you to think outside the box this year. What if you could jumpstart your weight loss by watching not only what you eat, but when you eat?
It sounds too good to be true, but eating meals and snacks at the right time of day may be a simple – yet critical – factor in determining your weight loss success.
Should I eat early or eat late?
In a 2013 study from Spain, where lunch is the main daily meal, women in a 20-week weight loss program were categorized into two groups: Early eaters (those who ate lunch before 3:00 pm) and late eaters (those who ate lunch after 3:00 pm).
The two groups had no significant difference in several factors that influence weight loss. They ate the same foods containing similar calories and got the same amount of exercise. Their hormones and sleep patterns also were consistent.
Despite the similarities between the women’s diets and daily routines, researchers found that the women who ate earlier in the day lost more weight and experienced faster weight loss than those who ate later in the day.
A similar effect was seen in a 2013 study of women with metabolic syndrome. The women in the study consumed 1,400 calories per day to promote weight loss (under medical supervision). Weight loss helps relieve the conditions associated with metabolic syndrome, which include increased blood pressure, impaired fasting glucose, and increased waist circumference. In turn, the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes is lowered.
In this randomized control study, one group of women ate 700 calories for breakfast, 500 calories for lunch, and 200 calories for dinner. The second group ate 200 calories for breakfast, 500 calories for lunch, and 700 calories for dinner.
Researchers found that the women who ate more calories earlier in the day showed greater weight loss, reduction in waist circumference, and lowering of triglycerides levels than the women who ate more calories later in the day. Additionally, the group that ate more calories earlier in the day reported higher levels of “feeling full.”
Should I eat earlier if I don’t need to lose weight?
If you don’t need or want to lose weight, you may still want to consider the timing of when you eat the majority of your calories. There may be other heart-healthy benefits from eating your biggest meal earlier in the day.
The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study followed approximately 27,000 men over a 16-year period. Each participant was asked to report the times of day they ate, including breakfast, lunch, dinner, and before- and between-meal snacks.
The men who skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease, such as angina or heart attack, versus those who did not skip breakfast. The men who ate late at night had a 55 percent higher cardiovascular risk compared with men who did not eat late at night.
The Health Professionals Follow-Up Study was not a randomized study, but rather participants were followed over time. We can’t exclude that men who eat a big breakfast are different in unknown ways from those who don’t. It’s possible that eating breakfast is a marker of different lifestyle patterns, education, or other significant factors. More research needs to be done to determine how eating breakfast truly affects cardiovascular risk.
Get your healthy New Year off to an early start!
Are you ready to dive in on your weight loss resolution? Start with these tips for timing your caloric intake throughout the day:
Eat breakfast every day: Start your day with a combination of lean protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates, such as these tasty recipes:
- Cold or hot granola with fruit, nuts, or seeds and low-fat milk
- Yogurt topped with granola, wheat germ, fruit, nuts, or seeds
- Whole-grain toast with peanut or almond butter
- Whole-grain, low-fat muffins or waffles topped with low-fat ricotta cheese and a sprinkle of cinnamon
- Low-fat cottage cheese with fruit
- Fruit (I like strawberries!) and low-fat cream cheese rolled in a whole-grain tortilla
- An omelet with fresh veggies (try spinach, red pepper, onion, and mushroom) – skip the bacon or sausage
Now is the time to get an early start on your New Year’s weight loss resolution. Properly timing your meals and snacks throughout the day – along with a healthy exercise plan – may help you feel and look great all year long.
Some people, including those who have diabetes, must be careful about the timing of meals and snacks. Check with your doctor before drastically changing your diet or exercise routine.