Does when you eat matter?

Does your body care when you eat your meals throughoutClock the day?  Yes, there is research showing that the timing of our meals throughout the day does appear to influence weight management.  We highlighted in a post last week that the type of foods you eat matters more than the calories.  We have also talked about the importance of breakfast and how important it is to have both a good protein food source as well as good high fiber food sources (such as eggs with oatmeal and raspberries).

Now consider when you eat throughout the day.  This is always an interesting topic in my Nutrition class, as many college students explain that they skip breakfast because they don’t have “time” to eat usually because they wake up right before they need to be out the door.

What effect does skipping breakfast have on you?  Can’t you just adjust your meals to eating late breakfast, lunch and dinner to compensate for waking up late?  You can, and many do (or they just skip a meal altogether).  But then how does that affect your choices throughout the day and how does it affect your body?  A few research studies 2 years ago specifically looked at the effect of pushing meals back and eating them later than typical.  One study evaluated two different groups.  Those who ate their lunch at a regular time versus those who ate their lunch “late”.  Interestingly, total calories, dietary composition, estimated amount of energy they expended in a day, appetite hormones and sleep duration were all similar between groups.  However, those in the group that ate lunch late (after 3PM) lost less weight and experienced a slower weight loss over the 20 week study period.  Additional research is planned to evaluate these factors.

A second study that came out the same year, evaluated the impact of the size of the meal throughout the day.  In this study, individuals were again divided into 2 groups.  One group consumed a large breakfast, medium lunch and small dinner (they evaluated based on calorie content).  The second group had the reverse meal schedule starting with a small breakfast and ending with a large dinner (this is typically what we see in the American diet – little to no calories for breakfast, an average lunch and then a large caloric dinner).  The results are pretty surprising.  The group that started the day with a large breakfast (~700 calories) lost an average of 17.8 lbs (3 inch waist circumference decrease).  While the group that consumed the large dinner (~700 calories) had less than half the success with an average of 7.3 lb lost (1.4 inches from waist).  This was evaluated over a 12 week period.

What about the diets that state it is better for your metabolism to eat small frequent meals throughout the day versus 3 big meals?  This to has been researched and the latest research has shown that individuals who eat small frequent meals throughout the day are not satisfied and end up eating more calories throughout they day versus those who consume 3 regular meals with perhaps a snack or two.  Physiologically, meals should be timed about every 3-4 hours throughout the day.  What I find most people struggle with is they eat lunch around noon and then dinner around 5-7 PM.  The problem here is going going 5-7 hours without food.  Then, when they finally eat, they usually do not make the best food choices and/or eat more than they intend.  This would be a good reason to include a healthy snack mid afternoon (~3 PM) to help curb hunger until dinner time.  A snack should really be a small meal, a combination of a healthy source of carbohydrate, protein and fat (nuts and fruit, veggies with savory yogurt dip, cheese or peanut butter and an apple, etc).

In summary, Eat Breakfast!!  Go to bed a little earlier, prepare your breakfast/or parts of your breakfast the night before to help reduce prep time and make Breakfast a priority.  All meals should be a good balance of healthy carb, protein and fat food choices, but the best breakfast is one that includes protein and fiber (cereal and milk just doesn’t cut it).  For example, a multi-grain toast with peanut butter and banana with a glass of milk is quick and easy to prepare.  Be consistent with your meals throughout the day.  Be sure to eat every 3-4 hours with the greatest amount of calories consumed at breakfast and gradually decreasing over the course of the day.

Kristine Clark

Wellness Associates


1. Garaulet MGómez-Abellán PAlburquerque-Béjar JJLee YCOrdovás JMScheer FA. Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Apr;37(4):604-11. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.229. Epub 2013 Jan 29.

2. New Study Highlights Weight Loss Benefits of Proper Meal Timing.

3. Night Snacking Woes: Is Food timing Key to Weight Loss?

4. Cameron JDCyr MJDoucet E. Increased meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss in subjects who were prescribed an 8-week equi-energetic energy-restricted diet. Br J Nutr. 2010 Apr;103(8):1098-101. doi: 10.1017/S0007114509992984. Epub 2009 Nov 30.

5. Ohkawara KCornier MAKohrt WMMelanson EL.Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013 Feb;21(2):336-43. doi: 10.1002/oby.20032.

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