Meal Timing as Important as Caloric Intake



Trying to drop those extra pounds can be excruciating. Watching every calorie and making sure you workout each day is difficult enough, but researchers are now saying that calories in and calories out isn’t the whole story.

According to a story on NPR, new research at Brigham and Women’s Hospital along with Murcia University and Tufts University is showing that meal timing is as important as caloric intake.

Early Versus Late Eaters

Researchers followed 420 overweight participants from Spain. Participants were divided into two groups: early eaters and late eaters. Since the participant population was Spanish, their main meal (consisting of at least 40 percent of their calories) fell in the middle of the day.

Early eaters ate lunch anytime before 3 pm and late eaters anytime after 3 pm. Researchers found that late eaters lost less weight and had a lower estimated insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for diabetes. 

"This is the first large-scale prospective study to demonstrate that the timing of meals predicts weight-loss effectiveness," said Frank Scheer, PhD, MSc, director of the Medical Chronobiology Program and associate neuroscientist at BWH, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and senior author on this study, reported on NPR. "Our results indicate that late eaters displayed a slower weight-loss rate and lost significantly less weight than early eaters, suggesting that the timing of large meals could be an important factor in a weight loss program."

According to the study, "[e]ating late may influence the success of weight-loss therapy. Novel therapeutic strategies should incorporate not only the caloric intake and macronutrient distribution—as is classically done—but also the timing of food." On average, earlier eaters lost 5 pounds more than late eaters.

Scheduling Your Meals

Scheduling your day can have a lot to do with these three criteria. Scheduling sleep is one of the most important things that you can do for weight loss. I've written before that you should plan meals that coordinate with your sleep cycle. Ideal meal times are breakfast from 7-8 am, lunch from 12-1 pm, and dinner 6-7 pm. This way you’ll have enough time between meals for digestion and, more importantly, you’ll have enough time for your meal to digest after dinner.


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Sara Novak writes about health and wellness for Discovery Health. Her work is also regularly featured in Breathe Magazine and on She has written extensively on food policy, food politics, and food safety.









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