1. New research indicates that eating earlier in the day may be better for your health.
2. People who ate their meals later in the day experienced greater hunger and cravings.
3. They also had changes that might favor fat storage.
4. Nutritionists say if you are getting hungry in the evening, it’s a good idea to plan your meals earlier.
5. Eating foods that are rich in protein and fiber can help you feel full for longer, too.
Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital say that when it comes to weight control, eating earlier in the day may be better for you.
They found that people who ate later in the day were hungrier throughout the day and had lower levels of serum leptin, the hormone that helps regulate body fat.
They also burned fewer calories and had lower core body temperature.
According to the researchers, late eating changes gene expression in adipose tissue in favor of increased fat storage.
When these alterations occur, it could predispose people to become obese.
Statistics further indicate that it is a rapidly rising concern with the prevalence of obesity increasing from 30.5% to 41.9% between 1999 and 2020.
The CDC additionally notes that obesity is linked to preventable causes of premature death like cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease, as well as higher medical costs.
How meal timing affects the body
The study authors write that interventions aimed at obesity often target behaviors, such as reducing the intake of calories or increasing exercise, usually with only temporary success.
However, since previous studies have found an association between eating later in the day and obesity risk, they wanted to examine what influence meal timing might have on weight.
Specifically, they wanted to see whether eating later in the day caused people to become hungrier or burn fewer calories, as well as whether there were any changes in the functioning of adipose tissue which might explain these effects.
They were careful to keep other factors constant, however, such as nutrient intake, physical activity, sleep, and exposure to light.
The team of scientists had 16 people who were either overweight or living with obesity eat the same set of meals. Each study participant was randomly assigned to eat either an early or late protocol. Those on the early protocol ate breakfast in the morning, followed by lunch and dinner.
Those on the late protocol were on a delayed schedule, not having their first meal of the day until about four hours later. Both groups then switched places and did the other protocol.
The researchers found that when people ate later in the day, they were twice as likely to report being hungry. They were also more likely to desire certain foods like starchy foods or meat.
Additionally, they had several other changes conducive to weight gain, including reduced leptin, fewer calories burned, and lower body temperature.
Julie Palmer, a registered dietitian at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said that what we can take away from this study is that we feel hungrier when we wait to eat later in the day.
When higher-calorie foods are more available to us later in the day … we’re more likely to overeat them,” said Palmer.
Palmer further noted that when we feel more satisfied and less hungry, this can help us eat less later on, which would support greater weight loss.
“If we know that we are more likely to feel hungry in the evening, we can make mindful choices like low-calorie, high-nutrition foods in the evenings such as vegetables, whole grains, and beans. The fiber will help us feel full and satisfied.”
Tips for healthy meal timing
Adekemi Adejare, a registered dietitian and nutritionist who authored the book “West African Diet For The Prevention & Treatment of Diabetes, Hypertension, Hyperlipidemia or High Cholesterol”, said part of healthy meal timing is figuring out what works best for you.
“One person may do best with eating five small equally spaced meals throughout the day and another person may have an easier time controlling their intake if they use an intermittent fasting type of eating plan.”
If you are the type of person who likes to eat most of their food earlier in the day, then you probably won’t experience any problems.
“But people who prefer to eat later or get hungrier at night might want to plan their p.m. meals a little earlier in the day,” said Adekemi.
A healthy balanced dinner including protein, fiber, vegetables, and fruits is important, she explained, with a focus on protein and fiber to keep you feeling full longer.
“Sip on water or other low/non-calorie beverages in the evening and refrain from taking late-night snacks,” she advised.
She further suggested that you should concentrate on fueling your body during your most active hours.
“If you can’t take time for a meal, choose lots of small ‘mini-meals’ throughout the day,” she said. “Try to eat a mini-meal every three to four hours.”
A mini-meal, according to Adekemi, is a combination of carbohydrates and protein, for example, peanut butter and whole grain crackers or low-fat string cheese and a piece of fresh fruit.
“Bring lots of these snacks with you as you work so you do not feel so hungry in the evening,” she added.
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