Chances are you may have come across the old saying ‘Eat like a king in the morning, like a prince at lunch and like a peasant in the evening’. The general consensus behind this saying is that you should eat bigger meals towards the start of the day rather than at the end. Why? So your body can properly digest the food that you’ve eaten throughout the rest of the day.
It appears that this may have been a sound piece of advice. A study published in the January 29 issue of the International Journal of Obesity (IJO) has found those that eat a late lunch are hindering their chances of weight loss. “Eating late may impair the success of weight loss therapy,” said the study’s authors.
Weight loss for early eaters
The study followed 420 overweight women who were divided into two groups as they took part in a weight loss program. One group ate a late lunch every day, and one group had an early lunch each day. The researchers recorded the weight of the women at regular intervals throughout the program. By the end of the 20 weeks, they found those that consumed their lunch after 3pm lost an average of 25 percent less weight than those who ate their lunches earlier in the day. The lunches eaten by the subjects were of the same nutritional value and contained the same amount of calories. The subjects were also given the same weight loss programs, containing the same amount of physical activity for each group.
This is not the first study that has indicated that timing of meals has an impact on weight and general fitness. However, it is the first study that has examined the effects on humans. A previous study already found that the same theory applied to mice. Scientists studied two groups of mice; one that was given meals at set times every day, and one that was allowed to eat when it wanted. Both diets contained the same number of calories, yet the mice allowed to eat whenever they wanted gained more weight than the other group.
An impact on fitness
The women in the IJO study who ate their lunch time meal after 3pm lost an average of 17 pounds over the 20 week period, compared with 22 pounds for those that ate earlier. The study took place in Spain, where meals are typically eaten later in the day due to traditional siesta times. Lunch is often the main meal of the day in Spain, containing around 40 percent of a person’s recommended calorie intake. Meals are often high in sodium and carbohydrates; dishes with bases such as pasta and rice are common in the Mediterranean. These carbohydrate-rich foods typically take longer to pass through the body’s digestive system so, if eaten later in the day, may not be fully digested before the body sets down for a night’s sleep. Towards the end of the day and during sleep are the worst times for digestion.
What is clear from this study is that timing of meals could well have an impact on weight loss and fitness. It is often recommended to eat little and often when taking part in a fitness program, or trying to maintain a healthy weight. What is needed is further research into this subject, in order to determine the exact best times to eat; this study did provide the women with nutritional information and advice, but did not tell them what time of day to eat (other than either before or after 3pm). Therefore, the women could have ended up all eating around the 3pm mark, seen as mid-afternoon lunches are normal in Spain.
Big breakfasts help weight loss
In 2008, Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz from Virginia Commonwealth University claimed that eating a big breakfast helped weight loss. She studied 96 obese women, dividing them into two groups. One group was given a 1,085-calorie-per-day diet that consisted of mainly protein and fat. Breakfast was the smallest meal at just 290 calories. The second group was given a diet of 1,240 calories, consisting of carbohydrate and protein. Here, the breakfast was the largest meal of the day at 610 calories. Four months later, the first group appeared to be losing more weight. However, after eight months, the situation had reversed – those on the low-carb diet had piled 18 pounds back on, and those on the big breakfast diet had continued to lose weight, losing a further 16.5 pounds.
The conclusion to draw from this is that it is better to eat larger meals towards the start of the day, so the body has a chance to burn off the calories; this will help you to slim and maintain a healthy weight.