registered dietitian nutritionist

Does Timing of Meals Matter?

“I’m sorry for what I said when I was hungry…” — Unknown

There are mixed opinions out there on whether or not eating late in the evening matters when it comes to weight management. We have all heard our friends say, “I don’t eat anything past 7 pm as it turns into fat!.” Others saying, “your body doesn’t know what time of day it is, it doesn’t matter when you eat as long as you burn more calories than you consume.” Is it really as simple as that? Or is there more to it?

According to a study published last year, there is more to it and timing of meals does matter:

In humans, research reports that eating a greater amount of energy early and a smaller amount of energy later in the day increases dietary induced thermogenesis, improves cardiometabolic outcomes, and enhances weight loss [2].

This has absolutely everything to do with our body clock — the circardian rhythm. Each one of us has an internal body clock and according to the most recent literature, we can be at our best if we align what we do to our internal clocks. This includes eating! Our body follows our internal clock and disruptions of this rhythm may be linked to health problems.

Conclusion from another study:

High‐calorie breakfast with reduced intake at dinner is beneficial and might be a useful alternative for the management of obesity and metabolic syndrome [4].

According to NIH:

Circadian rhythms can influence sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, eating habits and digestion, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. Biological clocks that run fast or slow can result in disrupted or abnormal circadian rhythms. Irregular rhythms have been linked to various chronic health conditions, such as sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder [3].

This is easier said than done when looking at an average schedule in an American household. We like to skip breakfasts and eat most when we have time for it which is in the evenings. Is this partially why rates of obesity and diabetes type II are soaring? Perhaps it is but more research is needed to know for sure.

As a dietitian, I’d advise all my clients to try to do the following:

  1. Eat a well balanced breakfast that includes a grain, a good portion of protein ( at least 20 grams) and a fruit ( or a vegetable).
  2. Continue to eat balanced meals throughout the day. Make sure you continue to include carbohydrate, protein and a vegetable in all of your meals.
  3. Keep your dinner lightest but don’t worry too much about what time you eat it. The idea here is to eat more calories in the first half of the day than in the second half.
  4. If you consume snacks, make them lighter in the second half of your day.
  5. Don’t go to bed hungry as you may have trouble sleeping. Sleep is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

References:

  1. Hutchison AT, Wittert GA, Heilbronn LK. Matching Meals to Body Clocks-Impact on Weight and Glucose Metabolism. Nutrients. 2017;9(3):222. Published 2017 Mar 2. doi:10.3390/nu9030222
  2. Hollie A. Raynor, Fan Li, Chelsi Cardoso. Daily pattern of energy distribution and weight loss. Physiology & Behavior. Volume 192, 2018, Pages 167-172
  3. National Institute of General Medical Sciences (September 2017). Circadian Rhythms. Retrieved from https://www.nigms.nih.gov
  4. Jakubowicz, D. , Barnea, M. , Wainstein, J. and Froy, O. (2013), High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity, 21: 2504-2512. doi:10.1002/oby.20460


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