Most metropolitan countries are presently fighting an obesity epidemic, as processed foods dominate the total calories consumed. Homemade meals that include fresh vegetables, fruits and lean protein sources are becoming a rarer phenomenon in the modern household, placing the health of millions at risk. Most people are aware that the total number of calories eaten and physical activity play an important role in weight management, but new research is beginning to demonstrate that the timing of meals and types of foods consumed may help prompt weight loss as much as the actual calories eaten.

A research team from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston has found that meal timing is a critical factor necessary to shed pounds. Scientists revealed that it’s not simply what you eat, but also when you eat, that may help with weight loss regulation.

Meal timing is a critical and independent factor that can help promote weight loss

To conduct the study and determine the importance of food timing with respect to weight loss, researchers studied 420 overweight participants from Spain who followed a 20-week weight loss treatment program. The participants were divided into two groups (early-eaters, main meal before 3 p.m. and late-eaters, main meal after 3 p.m.) based on the self-selected timing of the main meal, which was lunch in this cohort of Mediterranean volunteers. Participants consumed 40 percent of their daily calories at lunchtime, widely considered to be the main meal in Spain.

The team found that late-eaters lost significantly less weight than early-eaters, and displayed a much slower rate of weight loss. Late-eaters also had a lower estimated insulin sensitivity, placing them at significantly higher risk for diabetes. Thus, concluding that novel therapeutic strategies should incorporate not only the caloric intake and macronutrient distribution, as it is classically done, but also the timing of food.

Interestingly, the researchers found that late-eaters losing the least amount of weight also consumed fewer calories during breakfast and were more likely to skip the first daily meal altogether, supporting previous studies concluding the importance of eating a high protein breakfast to stimulate weight loss. Scientists also accounted for other traditional factors that play a role in weight loss such as total calorie intake and expenditure, the appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin, and sleep duration, and found no differences between the two groups, indicating that meal timing is a critical and independent risk factor for weight loss.