Timing of meal ‘just as important for weight loss as calories’

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 20th May 2013

Many weight loss plans focus on striking a balance between caloric intake and energy output, but the timing of meals could be just as important, according to new research published in the April 2013 edition of the International Journal of Obesity from the US has shown that timing of meals.

The study, undertaken by researchers from Boston healthcare centre the Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) in collaboration with the University of Murcia in Spain and Tufts University in Boston, found that people who ate their main meal earlier in the day lost weight more quickly than those who ate their main meal later.

“This is the first large-scale prospective study to demonstrate that the timing of meals predicts weight-loss effectiveness,” said Frank Scheer, senior author of the study, Director of the Medical Chronobiology Program and Associate Neuroscientist at BWH, and Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“Our results indicate that late eaters displayed a slower weight-loss and lost significantly less weight than early eaters, suggesting that the timing of large meals could be an important factor in a weight loss program,” said Professor Scheer.

To evaluate the role of meal timing in weight-loss effectiveness, the researchers studied 420 overweight study participants who followed a 20-week weight-loss treatment program in Spain.

The participants were divided into two groups: early-eaters and late-eaters. In Spain, the main meal of the day is usually lunch, and during this meal 40 per cent of total daily calories are consumed.

Early-eaters ate lunch anytime before 3pm and late-eaters after 3pm. Researchers found that late-eaters lost significantly less weight than early-eaters, and displayed a much slower rate of weight-loss.

Researchers found that the timing of the other smaller meals did not play a role in the success of weight loss. However, the late-eaters – who lost less weight – also consumed fewer calories during breakfast and were more likely to skip breakfast altogether. Late-eaters also had a lower estimated insulin sensitivity, a risk factor for diabetes.

The study also examined other traditional factors that play a role weight loss such as total calorie intake and expenditure, appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin, and sleep duration. Among these factors, researchers found no differences between the early-eaters and late-eaters, suggesting that the timing of the meal was an important and independent factor in weight-loss success.

“This study emphasises that the timing of food intake itself may play a significant role in weight regulations,” said Marta Garaulet, lead author of the study and Professor of Physiology of at the University of Murcia in Spain.

“Novel therapeutic strategies should incorporate not only the caloric intake and macronutrient distribution, as it is classically done, but also the timing of food,” Professor Garaulet said.

This research was supported by grants from Tomás Pascual and Pilar Gómez-Cuétara Foundations, Spanish Government of Science and Innovation, Séneca Foundation from the Government of Murcia. It was also supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and by contracts from the US Department of Agriculture Research, and grants from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.