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Does Eating Late Hinder Weight Loss?

If you’ve been reading just about any magazine lately or tuning into news programs, then you know that health experts are increasingly focused on identifying how to help people lose pounds and keep them off. One active area of research is timing of meals. According to internationally recognized author and nutritional expert, Suzanne Dixon, MPH, MS, RD, it turns out that adjusting when you eat may be an important weapon in the battle of the bulge.


Early vs. Late Eaters

Researchers invited 420 overweight adults from a weight loss clinic in Spain to participate in a study on timing of meals and weight loss success. The study location is important, because in Spain, the main meal of the day is lunch, not dinner. The researchers collected blood samples and daily diet records before and during the 20-week weight-loss intervention.

Participants were classified as early or late eaters, based on when they habitually ate their main meal of the day, which provided about 40% of their total daily calories. Consuming the main meal before 3 p.m. placed a person in the early category; those eating the main meal after 3 p.m. were classified as late eaters.

The weight-loss program consisted of:

  • Weekly 60-minute group sessions conducted by a food and nutrition professional.
  • Instruction on eating a Mediterranean diet, based around fresh vegetables and fruit, beans, nuts, olive oil, dairy, and fish; percent of calories from carbohydrates, fat, and protein met the Spanish Society of Community Nutrition guidelines.
  • Individual diet goals appropriate to facilitate weight loss based on baseline characteristics, such as initial weight, height, gender, age, and activity level.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy to address poor eating habits.
  • Recommendations for moderate physical activity.

After 20 weeks, the researchers discovered that early and late eaters had similar energy intake, dietary composition, estimated energy expenditure, appetite hormones, and sleep duration. Despite having nearly identical diets, compared with late eaters, the early eaters:

  • Began to lose more weight each week, beginning in week five.
  • Lost significantly more total weight; early eaters lost 22 pounds on average, compared with only 17 pounds for late eaters.
  • Lost significantly more weight as a percent of their initial weight.

So, before you grab for that late-night snack or deprive yourself at lunchtime only to stuff yourself come dinner, remember these remarkable results. Eating “dinner” for lunch may just help boost your weight loss potential!