Optimal Meal Timing for Weight Loss, Recommended by a Dietitian

Weight loss is more than just watching calories. This is why so many diets focus on food quality or macronutrients. While this approach may help some people lose weight, there’s still a lot we don’t know. This is especially true in terms of environmental and organic factors that can facilitate or hinder weight loss efforts.

Researchers have been studying the impact of timing meals. In the last five years, several studies, each with its own focus and methodology, have revealed similar findings. The time you eat your meals can make a significant difference to weight loss.

What are the best times to eat food when trying to lose weight? Although there isn’t a set time to eat, as this would differ from person to person, there are some general guidelines for timing meals. The research suggests that the best way to lose weight is to start with dinner, then move on to breakfast, which is a little more controversial.

Grilled Flank Steak & corn with Inexperienced goddess butter

Above: Recipe for Grilled Flank steak & Corn with Inexperienced goddess butter

Researchers and health professionals agree that you should eat your dinner early (no later than 2 to 3 hours before going to bed) then close the kitchen. It prevents late-night snacking, and allows the body to burn off some energy before bedtime. This allows the body to digest, which will allow for a more restful night’s sleep. When you sleep with a full stomach, you’re less likely to get enough, high-quality rest, which can lead to hormonal changes that could prevent weight loss.

9 Meals that Help You Sleep

Two reasons for eating early are not as obvious. New research shows that circadian rhythms help the body burn more calories, control blood sugar and improve digestion early in the day. It follows that eating dinner earlier in the evening, at 5 pm, rather than 8 pm, could affect weight loss by aligning closer to your body’s internal clock. A late dinner increases the time between meals. This will improve hormone regulation and increase fat burning.

Salmon Caesar Salad

Recipe pictured above: Salmon Caesar Salad

Lunch is the most important meal of the day, even if you eat breakfast. It is these circadian rhythms that are responsible for the body’s increased efficiency in the morning when it comes to digesting food, burning calories and regulating hormones.

It is also sensible to front-load your meals so that you get the majority of your daily energy and nutrients by midday.

Date pine nuts in oatmeal

Date & Pinenut In a Single Day Oatmeal

In recent times, the more common question is: Should you eat breakfast if you are trying to lose weight?

While there isn’t a definitive answer, two things are clear: Firstly, we all “quick” each evening while asleep and almost everyone benefits from this quick. Healthy people should aim to wait at least 12 hours between their last meal and their first meal the next day for health benefits, including weight loss.

Both of these issues can be handled in a variety of ways. You can finish your dinner at 7 pm and eat breakfast the next morning. If you don’t like breakfast or are a fan intermittent fasting, you could finish dinner before 7 pm, then eat after 11 am.

You can lose weight in either case–whether you are a regular breakfast eater, or an intermittent breakfast skipper. There are two key factors to consider: the first is that you should leave at least 12 hours between your last meal and the next. No matter if you have your first meal in the morning at 7 am or 11 am, it is important to make sure that this meal is nutrient dense and substantial.

What to eat for weight loss?
What does this mean for weight loss in the context of meal planning? It’s clear that there is much more to learn about weight loss. But I also think that changing a few meal times and eating habits could have a fairly significant impact on weight loss and overall health. If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some ideas to try.

1.) Breakfast is not only for the morning. Breakfast is technically when you break your fast from the previous day. There’s no specific time to eat breakfast as described above in the breakfast discussion. It’s important that you fuel your body with nutritious food when you break your fast. We love avocado toast or oatmeal with an egg.

2.) Give priority to eating in the first half of the day. Aim to consume the majority of your calories and vitamins before midday. There is no right or wrong way to do this. This will probably mean eating breakfast, lunch, and two snacks for one person. One person might have to eat a large brunch and a snack.

3.) Prepare your dinner in advance and light. Consider eating as early as four or five p.m. If it is not possible, try to eat at least three hours before bedtime.

4.) You can reap the benefits of a 12-hour gap between your dinner and next meal by avoiding late-night snacks and allowing 12 hours to pass. This will help you lose weight, burn fat, regulate metabolism, and manage cravings. To achieve this, you can either push your dinner back a bit or avoid late-night snacks. Some people may want to consider going for longer periods (13-16 hours) in order to get even more benefits when it comes fat burning.

While it is generally beneficial to all, those with a serious health condition such as diabetes should consult their doctor, particularly if this is a significant change from the way they eat now.

Carolyn Williams, PhD RD, has created the new cookbook Meals That Heal : 100 Everyday Anti-Inflammatory Recipes In 30 Minutes Or Less. She is also a culinary diet expert recognized for her ability to simplify diet and food information. She received a 2017 James Beard Journalism Award. You’ll be able to comply with her on Instagram @realfoodreallife_rd or on carolynwilliamsrd.com.