To be 100% honest, we've almost completely given up on advice regarding when we should and shouldn't eat. First and foremost, everyone has a different routine, different day-to-day responsibilities, different life—different body. Therefore, prescribing hourly mealtimes and deeming them the "right" or "wrong" time to eat feels a little… icky. We stand behind the idea that paying attention to our body's inherent cues and cravings (not to mention what our schedule will and won't allow) is a superior method of nourishment, but at the same time, ignoring research on topics like health and wellness (which can include weight loss) would be an oversight. That's why when we stumbled upon new studies stating the most minor timing and dining adjustment could impact our weight-loss efforts, we were intrigued. Of course, the testing groups were small and short-term, and more testing is needed to see whether or not the positive outcomes will stand the test of time, but we're fascinated nonetheless.
First and foremost, the evidence supports the idea our biggest meal of the day should be breakfast, and our lightest should be dinner. (Lunch will fall somewhere in between.) According to time-enduring studies, catering dining times this way may lead to weight loss in addition to healthier hormone regulation, sleep patterns, and blood sugar levels. (However, to play devil's advocate, some say you'll sleep better if you have a heartier meal at night—again, this ultimately comes down to experimentation and finding out what your body prefers.)
When given the same number of daily calories, NBC reports, "Bigger breakfast eaters experienced more than twice the amount of weight loss compared to the bigger dinner eaters, and at the end of the 12-week study, also experienced improvements in triglyceride levels and cholesterol levels. The breakfast group also had better insulin levels throughout the day."
Plus, brand-new research correlates this pyramid-like approach to eating (frontloading earlier in the day and easing off toward the end) to better sleep, which in turn could make us happier and healthier human beings. After all, when it comes to the circle of life, what isn't correlated in terms of our health and wellness patterns?
Of course, intermittent fasting (which is controversial—experts either love it or hate it) has also proved promising if you have weight-loss goals. But as the more recent stats point out, your adjustments need not be drastic. Nope; simply bumping breakfast back 90 minutes later than you'd normally eat and bumping dinner 90 minutes earlier could ultimately shift the scale.
"The research on time-restricted feeding—a form of intermittent fasting—is also promising," NBC says. According to this study, those who were instructed to make the above adjustments lost, on average, twice the amount of body fat as those who carried on with their normal noshing schedule. Also important: Both groups were allowed to eat whatever they wanted during their "approved" time frames. Also, also important? The group who pushed breakfast and dinner didn't feel like it was a practice they'd be able to keep up for the long haul. Ah, the caveat of almost every diet—unsustainablity. In fact, more than half (57%) said it'd be a no-go long-term. Eek.
"It's interesting to consider how our typical eating patterns—light on breakfast (if eaten at all) with the biggest meal in the evening, coupled with our fast-paced lives (working and commuting long hours leading to late night meals and snacking) may lead to poorer health and weight outcomes," says Samantha Cassetty, RD. "I've also seen a pattern of ultra-light morning and mid-day meals lead to insatiable hunger and cravings, and over-snacking on unhealthy fare, which causes trouble on its own.
"It doesn't appear that our bodies are designed to function at their best for the around-the-clock food culture we're living in. In my experience, it's good practice to give your body a chance to digest before bedtime by finishing your last meal or snack a few hours before you turn in. If your system is busy digesting late at night, it can disrupt the body processes that happen as we sleep, which may cause hormone disturbances and other imbalances that promote overeating and weight gain."
The takeaway? According to Cassetty (and the plethora of supporting research), experimenting with mealtime could be helpful. Of course, it might not be, but overall, starting your day with a satisfying meal full of protein, healthy fats, and fiber will steady your blood sugar (for less of those hangry moments at work) and can help curb cravings for less healthy fare later in the day. (We've never talked to a nutritionist who has disputed the benefits of starting the day with a healthy breakfast, folks.)
Then, if you're able and it feels realistic with your schedule, experiment with dinner, slimming your portions a tad at night and keeping leaner, nutrient-rich options top of mind, like grilled chicken, omega-rich fish, legumes, and all the veggies.