9 Meal Schedules: When to Eat to Lose Weight
The answer to that question may have greater implications for health than one might think. Although what we put in our bodies matters most, when we choose to eat that food also has an impact on how our bodies will process it and our likelihood of gaining weight from it.
“The timing of when we eat can influence body weight,” said Constance Brown-Riggs, a registered dietitian and spokewoman for the National Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Studies done on mice — in which food intake can be controlled for extended periods — have demonstrated this, she said.
The most important aspect of any diet is keeping overall calorie consumption in check, particularly for those with diabetes or who are trying to lose weight. But the schedule people follow in eating meals and snacks can help them either stay on track with their diets, or be more easily swayed off course, Brown-Riggs said.
Here’s a look at nine eating-schedule habits, and how they might help or hurt.
Eating a big meal in the morning gives the body plenty of energy to start the day, and sets the pace of metabolism for the rest of the day. It helps people avoid feeling so hungry at subsequent meals that it derails their diets, Brown-Riggs said.
2) Eat within an hour of getting up
Because these personal preferences are also mostly shaped by habit, they can be changed by building new habits, Brown-Riggs said. Start out by eating a single piece of fruit or toast to get the body comfortable digesting something early in the morning.
Breakfast should ideally be eaten within an hour of getting up, she said, and a big meal is not needed to jump-start the body’s metabolism.
People who skip breakfast are a third more likely to be obese, Brown-Riggs said.
3) A long, lesiurely lunch
Eating a large lunch is better for the body than eating a big dinner, she explained, because it means that calories consumed throughout the day are more evenly distributed, and satiety is also more even throughout the day.
But be careful about eating too much at any meal, Brown-Riggs said, because that can lead to weight gain even if you reduce calories consumed at other meals.
“The body is only going to use what it needs at one particular meal, and the rest of it is going to be stored in the body as fat,” she said.
This strategy can work well for some people, as long as they stay within their bounds for target calorie consumption, Brown-Riggs said. Some dietitians even advocate that the small, constant meals rev up metabolism and encourage weight loss, she said.
However, the main problem is that “people don’t know what ‘small’ means,” and so they tend to overshoot their calorie limits, and wind up eating more than they should, Brown-Riggs said.
5) Is a big dinner a big mistake?
People who reserve their biggest meal for the end of the day may tend to eat less before that point.
“If you go into dinner ravenous, the tendency is to over-eat,” Brown-Riggs said.
A better option for people who want to keep their dinnertime tradition is to reduce portion sizes. This can accomplish the goals of both getting in some bonding time, as well as maintaining a healthy weight, Brown-Riggs said. People can redistribute those extra dinner calories to breakfast and lunch, to maintain a steadier level of fullness throughout the day.
6) Three meals with three snacks in between
“Most important is the minimum of three meals daily,” which keeps you feeling full the longest, Brown-Riggs said, adding that “how you divide up your calories depends on your individual schedule.”
If the body goes more than four or five hours without eating, this will effect metabolism and how likely overindulgence is at the next meal, she said.
Brown-Riggs said she likes the plan of three main meals with snacks in between because this plan takes people’s busy schedules into account. When it’s not possible to sit down for lunch until 3 p.m., having a light snack available can stave off hunger. This schedule keeps you in more control of the food choices you make, she said.
7) Know when to stop
Diets that rely on gimmicks to help people lose weight often don’t present a long-term solution to calorie consumption, she said.
8) Late-night eating
Additionally, staying up should mean maintaining some level of activity, not zoning out in front of the TV. Sitting in the “recliner is the same as going into the bed,” Brown-Riggs said.
The recliner is where a lot of people tend to get into trouble, as there is a tendency to relax at the end of the day, and to indulge in snack foods.
“For the average person coming into my office with weight problems, the biggest problem is after-dinner snacking.”
She added that for people who stay up very late, a snack at midnight is a fine choice, as long as it fits into the overall calorie plan, and the consumer is planning on staying up for long enough to digest it.
“Fasting is not a means of controlling one’s weight,” Brown-Riggs said.
Even more problematic is the tendency for people to be disheartened when the weight is regained, and simply give up on dieting all together, she said.
Pass it on: In order to best control your weight, eat three meals daily, and be prepared with three snacks.