We’ve all heard the phrase: “Eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince, and dinner like a pauper!” – Adelle Davis (1904-1974)
In fact, the Spanish are very good at this and adopt this pattern of eating today! The theory around losing weight isn’t difficult or necessarily complex, it's basic physics. The law of thermodynamics dictates if we expend more energy than we consume we'll inevitably lose weight, no doubt about it! There's also evidence to suggest that it doesn't matter where these calories come from as long as we're in caloric deficit . Despite this all sounding very easy, energy intake and expenditure are not the only factors known to influence the success of a dietary intervention on obesity. Recently, there have been several studies looking at the timing of meals and caloric intake to predict whether 'when' we eat our calories has an effect on weight loss too.
A study published in the International Journal of Obesity, looked at how timing of meals had an impact on weight-loss in humans . The study took 420 overweight men and women. Dietary intake was assessed in all volunteers during the entire 20-week trial and the subjects were divided into two groups. Group 1 (the early eaters) consumed 51 percent of their total daily Kcals before 3pm, and Group 2 (the late eaters) ate 49 percent of their calories after 3pm. Wide ranges of biomarkers were monitored throughout the study. They included obesity and metabolic syndrome parameters, such as weight, height, total body fat and body fat distribution, as well as the levels of the appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin. Plasma concentrations of glucose, cholesterol, triglycerides and lipoproteins were also assessed.
Following the 20 weeks both groups had lost weight, with the early eater losing a significantly greater amount of weight (9.9kgs on average) compared with the late eaters (7.7kgs on average). It was also observed that late eaters showed a slower rate of weight loss after five weeks of the treatment and this difference was maintained during the remaining period of the study. The differences in weight loss between the groups came as a surprise to the researchers, since there were no significant differences in total energy intake or energy expenditure between late and early eaters.
A second study conducted back in December 2013 compared a weight loss diet in overweight and obese women looking at high caloric intake during breakfast (700kcals breakfast, 500kcals lunch, 200kcals dinner) compared with a high caloric intake at dinner (200kcals breakfast, 500kcals lunch, 700kcals dinner) on an isocaloic diet of 1400 calories per day.
After 12-weeks the breakfast group showed greater weight loss and reduced waist circumference, along with significantly lower mean hunger scores and a greater level of satiety compared to the women who ate 700 calories at dinner . The researchers 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."
A more recent study published in May 2014 also showed that eating the majority of your calories earlier in the day can help you lose weight. Two groups followed the Mediterranean diet, emphasizing on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, olive oil, beans, nuts, legumes, herbs and spices, fish/seafood, poultry, eggs, diary, etc. For both groups, the diet they followed contained 55 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent fat and 15 percent protein. The main difference between the groups was the distribution of these calories throughout the day.
Group 1 consumed 70 percent of their calories at breakfast, morning snack and lunch, and 30 percent for their afternoon snack and dinner. Group 2 consumed 55 percent of their calories for breakfast, morning snack and lunch, with the remaining 45 percent for afternoon snacks and dinner. After 3 months, the results indicated significantly improved body composition, metabolic parameters, lower blood pressure and cholesterol in both groups. However, group 1 lost more weight and had much better insulin sensitivity compared to group 2 .
The researchers concluded, “A low-calorie Mediterranean diet with a higher amount of calories in the first part of the day could establish greater reduction in fat mass and improved insulin sensitivity than a typical daily diet.” In conclusion, consuming 15 - 28.5 percent of your calories earlier on in the day may help you reach you weight loss and health goals that little bit faster, while also increasing your sense of satiety and feeling of fullness.
Studies like these are the first of their kind showing that although calories in versus calories out is important for weight loss, the timings of these calories may also play an important part. It also shows promise of brining back the traditional English breakfast, which is good enough for me!
 Buchholz AC, Schoeller DA. Is a calorie a calorie? Am J Clin Nutr. 2004;79(5):899S–906S.
 Garaulet M, Gómez-Abellán P, Alburquerque-Béjar JJ, et al. (2013). Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. International Journal of Obesity 37:604-611. Doi:10.1038/ijo.2012.229
 Jakubowicz D, Barnea M, Wainstein J, Froy O. High caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2013;21(12):2504-12. doi: 10.1002/oby.20460.
 Lombardo M, et al. J Am Coll Nutr. 2014 May 8:1-8. [Epub ahead of print.]
About Chris Hall
As the founder of Hall Training Systems, it is my mission to provide you with the very best personal training experience. I set up Hall Training Systems as Oxford's leading personal training service in nutrition, performance and weight loss, ensuring I can deliver the very best in training techniques.
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