New Clinical Research Shows Eating Earlier May Contribute to More Effective Weight Loss
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In the constant battle to regulate weight here in America, any piece of advice, any little form of information that may tip the scales for dieters is coveted, cherished, and reiterated as medical news by multiple outletsacross the country. One such study has just recently surfaced, showing that it might not just be what you are eating, but also when you are eating.
A recent study in the International Journal of Obesity has concluded that there is reason to eat more calories earlier in the day rather than later. The study took place in Spain and centered 420 overweight participants, half male, half female, with an average age of 42 and an average BMI of 31.4. Half of the participants were instructed to eat lunch (Spain’s equivalent of the U.S.’s dinner) before 3pm, and the other half were instructed to eat lunch after 3pm. The study found that the early eaters lost a significant amount of weight more than those that ate later.
The participants ate about 1,400 calories a day on average, which is much, much lower than the U.S. national average (the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the average American eats roughly 2,700 calores). This diet was followed for 20 weeks, and took into account that the later eaters were more likely to eat fewer calories and skip earlier meals altogether, though researchers they claim that this had no bearing on their findings. Other controls accounted for were total caloric intake, energy exertion/caloric burn, appetite hormones ghrelin and leptin, and how much sleep participants got. The study’s author, Frank Scheer, thus concludes that “the timing of the main meal by itself seems to be the most determinant factor in weight loss effectiveness [in this study], and therefore eating at the right time may be a relevant factor to consider in weight loss therapies.”
According to Scheer, recent animal studies were the progenitor to this study, showing that the time at which animals eat can play a large role in regulation of weight and the rate at which metabolism works. Scheer’s latest Spain study is the first of its type that shows that the same is true for humans. The results of the study showed that early eaters lost 22 pounds on average, while late eaters lost only 17 pounds. Scheer conjectures that the reason the late eaters didn’t lose as much weight may have to do with our own biological clocks. “When the timing of meals do [sic] not match with the sleep-wake cycle well,” he says, “there’s a disconnect between the different clocks that we have in basically all the cells of our body.” When that “disconnect” happens, our bodies do not regulate weight loss as well.
Not everybody is on board with Scheer’s findings, citing that more experiments need to be conducted with tighter controls in place. UPMC’s Madelyn Fernstrom is just one of those critics, pointing out that the study shows a relationship between weight loss and timing of caloric intake, but that it does not necessarily prove a cause and effect type of relationship between the two.
Whether or not caloric timing does have a significant effect on weight loss, one thing is for sure: there is no better way to lose weight than to simply regulate calorie intake. Creating a caloric deficit by burning more calories than you consume is the most tried and true weight loss method — so don’t fret if you’re a late eater!
Joe Baxter is retired from the field of medical research. Now that he''s retired, he spends a majority of his time traveling foreign lands, working in his wood shop and writing, particularly about endocrinology and weight loss.