Trying to lose weight? Consider “when” you eat, not just what you eat

Trying to lose weight? Consider “when” you eat, not just what you eat

Most people trying to lose weight or with an interest in their health and wellness, pay attention to what they eat, while related areas like meal timing and the number of meals they eat, are actually starving for attention.

With the way our society is structured, most people awaken in the morning, rush to get ready for work, and have very little, if anything, for their first meal of the day. Being conscious of what we eat during the day, we may choose a salad or something considered “light” for lunch with no thought of a snack for later. Now, depending on how much coffee we’ve had and our workload for the day, some may notice hunger pangs setting in by mid-afternoon, and by the time we get home from work? We’re starving! Here comes the sugar, salts and fats to save us. Some crackers, cheese, pizza, pasta, bread, rice, meat, and potatoes will definitely do the trick. But now we have stacked the odds against ourselves and our goals of weight loss and fueling our bodies mindfully.

The point here is that most people structure their meals in a density ascending order. The first meal is light or nothing; lunch is a little bit bigger in quantity and nutritional content; and dinner is the largest meal of the day with heavy emphasis on carbs and protein (Upside down triangle). No wonder weight loss can pose such a challenge!

There are many reasons explaining why this phenomenon occurs, but before we get into that, let’s look at another way to structure our meals. Evidence suggests that switching our meal orientation can help individuals achieve their weight loss goals. One study in particular looked at comparing the distribution of isometric diets (eating the same
amount of carbs, fats and proteins daily) in a group of overweight and obese women over a 12 week period.

Both groups consumed 1400 kcals daily with the same macronutrient composition. What was the difference? One group had a meal structure that consisted of a 700 kcal Breakfast (BF), 500 kcal Lunch (LN), and 200 kcal Dinner (DN) which was referred to as the Breakfast group (normal triangle), while the other groups structure was 200 kcal BF, 500 kcal LN, and 700 kcal DN (the upside down triangle) referred to as the Dinner group. I should note the timing of the meals. Participants were asked to eat breakfast between 6 – 9 am, lunch between 12 – 3 pm and dinner 6
– 9 pm.

What was the result? If you subscribe to the calories in, calories out theory, there should be NO difference between these groups, but in fact, there was. The Breakfast group experienced 2.5x greater weight loss, double the improvement in BMI and waist circumference when compared to the Dinner group. If that wasn’t enough, the breakfast group also experienced a decrease of 33.6% in serum triglycerides while the dinner group showed an INCREASE of 14.6%. There was also greater improvements in fasting glucose, insulin sensitivity and the breakfast group reported feeling less hungry and more satiated compared to the dinner group 1.

Another study found that people who ate their main meal before 3 pm (termed early eaters) lost more weight and at a faster rate than late eaters (ate main meal after 3 pm) even though energy intake, dietary composition, estimated energy expenditure, appetite hormones and sleep duration was similar between both groups 2.

There are many hormonal and chemical pathways responsible for these results including insulin and circadian rhythms. For example, as the day progresses we are less sensitive to insulin which means we need more insulin to deal with the same rise in blood sugar. More circulating insulin will help manage the blood sugar spike but it will also promote synthesis of triglycerides resulting in fat accumulation.


The big picture is that meal timing and how we orient our meals can have a tremendous impact on weight loss and
markers of health, and that they deserve just as much if not more attention as what we are eating and trying to avoid. As a Lifestyle Coach I collaborate with clients on a nutrition plan to includes all domains like composition, orientation and timing.

Eat like a triangle, a heavy balanced breakfast, moderate lunch and a light dinner
[1] High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Full Article.
[2] Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. Full Article.

Anthony Barsby

As our Human Performance Specialist, Anthony provides clients with comprehensive and customized lifestyle coaching through face-to-face consultations and online mentoring. A Certified Exercise Physiologist, Anthony administers fitness assessments and designs exercise programs that address each individual's goals and needs.