FOR YEARS we have been told that weight control is about calories in vs. calories out, moving more and eating less and keeping on top of our metabolism by eating small frequent meals.
Now new research suggests that we have gotten it completely wrong with meal timing and less frequent eating linked to long term weight control.
The diets of more than 50,000 adults who were members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church living in California were analysed by researchers looking for dietary patterns linked to weight control.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the number of meals adults consumed, how long they went without food overnight, eating breakfast and the size and timing of their largest meal were all linked to lower BMI’s (Body Mass Index).
Specifically those who consumed just one or two larger meals compared to those who ate three or more meals each day had lower BMI’s over time.
Those who snacked more often were more likely to have an increase in BMI over time.
It also seems a long period of fasting overnight is an effective way to manage your weight. Individuals who had long periods overnight without food (i.e. more than 18 hours) had lower BMI’s than those who only had 12-17 hours overnight without food.
As expected breakfast eaters had a lower BMI than breakfast skippers but more specifically those who ate their largest meal at breakfast had significantly lower BMI’s than those who ate their largest meal at dinner. This was lower than those who ate their largest meal at lunchtime but not as low as big breakfast eaters.
So what does this tell us about long term weight control? While BMI is a crude measure of weight control as it does not take into account muscle mass versus fat mass, these findings do suggest that meal timing is important.
Breakfast is key
Specifically eating breakfast is crucial and it seems the bigger the better. Forget a quick coffee on the run, a large meal with a significant number of calories appears to boost metabolic rate thanks to the thermogenic effect of food, or the increased number of calories it actually takes to digest a meal.
How often we’re eating
We then need to consider how often we are eating. Ideally a break of several hours in between each meal is ideal to let our digestive hormonal return to normal levels.
Lunch too needs to be larger rather than a light meal to avoid the common scenario which sees us consume our largest meal at the end of the day.
The end of the day
Finally — but most importantly — we need to eat dinner earlier. The longer we give ourselves as an overnight fast, the better. For some of us this may mean a large-ish brunch and light dinner of soup, salad or fish, or for others a big breakfast, substantial hot meal at lunch and then a light snack at 5 or 6pm.
It is about working out a regimen that works for you and your family.
Put most simply, this is strong evidence that we need to eat bigger earlier, and far less frequently than we currently do.
Unfortunately this is easier said than done in modern lives in which we stay up late, work long hours and love to eat.
This is what an ideal day’s eating would look like, according to this study
Breakfast at 8am
2-egg vegetable omelette plus two slices of wholegrain toast with avocado, vegetable juice and small coffee
Lunch at 1pm
2 cups wholegrain pasta with small tin tuna and large salad
Dinner at 6pm
100g white fish and bowl of vegetable soup