Weight loss and timing of meals - does it matter?

  • Eating more at breakfast and less at dinner was previously seen as beneficial
  • Studies were conducted indicating that this could help with weight loss
  • Recent research, however, shows otherwise


There are many theories around when and what one should eat in order to lose or maintain weight. One widely-accepted belief is that we must eat breakfast and that most of our daily calories should be consumed at breakfast. 

This idea is backed by numerous studies, one of which concluded: “High-calorie breakfast with reduced intake at dinner is beneficial and might be a useful alternative for the management of obesity and metabolic syndrome.”

Ground-breaking research presented on 13 November at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2020, however, proves otherwise.

Author of the study and associate professor at John Hopkins University, Nisa M. Maruthur stated: “We have wondered for a long time if when one eats during the day affects the way the body uses and stores energy.” 

This led Maruthur and a team of her colleagues to conduct a study investigating whether restricting meals to early in the day would facilitate weight loss.

Time-restricted eating patterns

The study involved 41 adults with a BMI that classified them as being overweight. Ninety percent of the participants were Black women who were either diabetic or prediabetic. Twenty-one of the participants were assigned to a time-restricted eating plan which limited them to eating at specific hours only, and they had to eat 80% of their daily calories before 13:00.

The remaining 20 adults ate at usual times but consumed 50% of their daily calories after 17:00. Weight and blood pressure of the participants were measured at four-week intervals.

The researchers hypothesised that participants following a time-restricted feeding pattern would lose more weight than those following a more traditional eating pattern.

Eating times not deciding factors for weight loss

Researchers were stunned by the results of the study, which found that across both groups people lost weight and their blood pressure decreased regardless of when they ate. 

According to Maruthur, “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.”

These results prove that you won’t necessarily gain weight if you were to eat bigger meals later in the day compared to eating a larger number of calories in the morning.

Image credit: iStock

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