When trying to lose weight, most of us focus on what we eat – and for good reason. What we consume is a key component of how much we weigh, more so than how much we exercise or whether we follow any particular fad diet.
Yet like all things related to the human body, weight loss is complex. While what we eat is critical, when we eat is also important. Our bodies’ digestive organs work most effectively during the day, which means that we should focus on consuming most of our calories during daylight hours, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
At Ideal You, we understand that losing weight isn’t as simple as calories in versus calories out. Our program takes into account all of the factors that can affect your ability to lose weight – like sleep, hydration, and even when you eat. Our team will work with you to help you drop pounds in a safe, sustainable way – without ever asking you to buy expensive weight loss shakes or do hours of strenuous exercise.
Does Timing Really Matter When It Comes to Eating?
While it may not be obvious, the time of day that you eat can have a significant impact on weight loss. This is due to our bodies’ circadian rhythms, which are the physical, mental, and behavioral changes that follow a 24 hour cycle. These rhythms serve as our bodies’ natural timing devices, prompting us to go to bed at night and even regulating our body temperature.
Our circadian rhythms are complicated, involving specific molecules that interact with cells throughout the body. For example, we gather information about incoming light through our optic nerve, which then sends the info from our eyes to the brain. When it starts to get dark outside, our bodies release the hormone melatonin, which makes us sleepy.
Circadian rhythms are also closely linked to metabolism. Specifically, our digestive system is turned on in response to light – when we wake up for the day – and start to shut down when it is dark, as the body releases melatonin. When we eat too late at night, it may disrupt our circadian rhythms.
The human body is designed to cycle between two states: fed and fasted. After we eat, our bodies secrete insulin and use the nutrients in food to create energy stores. When we are fasting (predominantly while sleeping), our bodies use these nutrient stores to function.
Eating at night causes our bodies to remain in the “fed” state for a longer period of time, where we are storing nutrients and building fat. Instead of allowing our bodies to use up our energy stores while we are sleeping to build and repair, eating in the evening actually prompts our bodies to continue to store fat. This can make it easy to gain weight – and difficult to shed unwanted pounds.
A number of studies have shown that eating later in the evening is associated with increased body fat. In 2017, researchers found that people who ate at night, when the brain is preparing for sleep, tend to have higher levels of body fat – regardless of the amount or type of food that they ate, or their activity level.
Similar studies have shown that eating later in the day leads to higher daily calorie intake, which is associated with weight gain. Consuming calories at night has also been linked to
For people who work swing shifts or predominantly at night, this can make weight loss particularly difficult. A 2020 study of police officers working morning, evening and night shifts found that more calories were consumed during night shift days than on any other days. This led researchers to hypothesize that the timing of meals has a major impact on weight gain and obesity, particularly for shift workers.
When Should I Eat My Meals to Lose Weight?
There is an old saying that you should eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner. This proverb is spot on: the ideal time to eat is between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., when it is light outside and our bodies are primed to digest food. For weight loss or to maintain your weight, you should try to ingest the most calories at breakfast.
In a 2013 study, researchers followed a group of overweight women for 3 months as they ate a diet that was intended to help them lose weight. Each participant had the same daily caloric intake, yet the women who ate the most calories at breakfast lost 2.5 times more weight than those who ate the most calories at dinner.
At breakfast, focus on protein and healthy fats, which can help you stay satisfied for longer and be less likely to snack throughout the day. For example, you may make zucchini egg wrap cups, filled with protein-rich eggs, to help you power through your morning. If you need a mid-morning snack, choose something healthy – like broccoli florets with dip, or even a small handful of nuts.
When it’s time for lunch, choose a slightly lighter – but still substantial – meal. For example, you may choose to make a chicken and cucumber salad to fill you up without consuming too many calories.
Try to eat dinner before 7 p.m., and eat a comparatively light meal, like a salad with protein. This way, your body will have time to finish digestion before you go to bed – and you won’t prevent your body from using the day’s energy stores to perform its important repair and growth work.
If you are hungry between 7 p.m. and whenever you go to bed, try to stick to water or a healthy, low calorie snack (like carrots). Always try to stop eating 3 to 4 hours before you go to sleep so that you don’t interrupt your body’s circadian rhythms and stall your weight loss efforts.
Of course, it can be more difficult for people who work at night or who work swing shifts to restrict their eating to daytime hours. In this situation, it may be best to consult with weight loss experts – such as at Ideal You – to get a personalized recommendation on when to eat.
How to Lose a Life-Changing Amount of Weight
We’ve all had moments where we put the kids to bed, and then head straight for the snack cupboard to grab some chips or cookies to eat in front of the TV. While late-night snacking has its appeal, it can make it hard to lose weight – even if you are eating healthy snacks. Sticking to a daytime eating schedule is a better choice if you are looking to shed unwanted pounds.
Ideal You is dedicated to helping people just like you lose weight in a way that is both safe and sustainable. Our team takes into account all of the factors that can make it hard to lose weight, including the timing of your meals. We offer a structured food list and weight loss journal, all natural, food-based supplements to boost your metabolism, and support from weight loss coaches. Together, we can eliminate whatever barrier is holding you back from losing weight.