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Most of us have heard the advice that if you want to lose weight, you should eat your biggest meals earlier in the day.
The theory is that you can drop weight faster by taking in most of the calories you plan to eat in a day several hours before bedtime (when your metabolism naturally slows). More than a few studies over the last few years certainly seemed to indicate this was the way to go.
And we certainly wanted it to work, right? I mean, it’s so hard to eat less or eat right all the time. The idea of not worrying over what to eat so much as when to eat it seemed easier for some of us. But, we’re learning it may have sounded too good to be true, and here’s why…
Starting with a level playing field
The research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020, specifically set out to discover if when you eat in the day affects how your body uses and stores energy. While some previous research had found that restricting meals and calorie intake to early eating times could be beneficial, including intermittent fasting, there were flaws in those studies that this latest effort focused on eliminating.
Specifically, according to study author Nisa M. Maruthur, M.D., M.H.S., associate professor of medicine, epidemiology and nursing at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, “Most prior studies have not controlled the number of calories, so it wasn’t clear if people who ate earlier just ate fewer calories. In this study, the only thing we changed was the time of day of eating.”
This time around, the team followed 41 overweight adults for a full 12 weeks and provided them with healthy pre-prepared food — so they all ate the same number of calories.
Twenty-one of the participants were asked to follow a time-restricted eating pattern, where they ate 80 percent of their day’s pre-prepared calories before 1 p.m.
And the other 20 simply ate their pre-prepared meals whenever they wanted. This led to the usual pattern that probably most of us fall into — consuming about half of our calories after 5 p.m. each day.
The researchers tracked both groups’ weight and even blood pressure at four, eight and 12 weeks.
And guess what…
The results showed that people in both groups lost weight and improved their blood pressure regardless of when they ate.
“We thought that the time-restricted group would lose more weight,” Maruthur said. “Yet that didn’t happen. We did not see any difference in weight loss for those who ate most of their calories earlier versus later in the day. We did not see any effects on blood pressure either.”
Still more to learn
So if weight loss, or even better blood pressure is your goal, it looks like it’s more about what you eat than what time you eat it — which really is the old-school advice we’ve been told for years.
Of course, the researchers say that they still have more to learn about the potential health benefits of time-restricted eating. Specifically, they plan to follow up to check and see if it could help with blood sugar, insulin or other hormones.
But even if early eating isn’t an easy way to lose weight, it appears eating very late may be an easy way to sabotage your health…
A study published in the Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in June 2020 discovered that those who ate dinner at 10 p.m. experienced peak blood sugar levels 20 percent higher than people who ate dinner at 6 p.m. The late eaters’ ability to burn fat also decreased by 10 percent.
That’s because, “the later we eat, more are the chances of the food lying in the intestines, affecting the digestion. The body uses everything we eat. If the calories produced are not put to use, it is stored as fat,” according to Clinical Nutritionist Dr. Rupali Dutta.
That certainly seems to indicate that you can eat too late.