Have you ever wondered when is the best time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want to lose weight? We reveal all...
All this time we’ve been so worried about exactly what we eat, carefully counting calories and weighing out portion sizes, reading up on different diets and downing as much fruit and veg as we can, that we forget to worry about when we were eating it!
Because, according to research, the time you eat could have a huge impact on your weight loss if you’re a dieter.
Researchers have managed to pinpoint the exact times to eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner if you’re slimming. They found that the best time to have your breakfast is just after 7am, 7.11am to be precise. It’s better to get stuck into your lunch sooner rather than later between 12.30pm and 1pm, with 12.38pm the best time. And when it comes to dinner, the later you leave it the worse it can be for your diet – the optimum time for dinner is between 6pm and 6.30pm, 6.14pm preferably.
What’s the harm of ignoring these guidelines, you might ask? But a recent study has shown that regularly sitting down to dinner after 8pm can add an extra two inches to your waist – that’s the equivalent of two dress sizes for a woman.
The researchers suggest that the difference could be because we have evolved to use up energy during the day, so our mechanisms slow down as we get ready for sleep, reducing the rate at which we process food.
What about snacking?
Experts have also managed to pinpoint ‘snack o’ clock’ – the times of the day when dieters are mostly likely to meet their downfall, with some consuming up to 750 additional calories at these points. 11.01am, 3.14pm and 9.31pm are the times when your willpower is most likely to fail you, so find activities to occupy your mind during these periods, or plan healthy snacks to keep you full into your schedule so you’re not tempted by less nutritious options.
Lee Smith, managing director of Forza Supplements, who conducted the research, said: ‘We are all becoming much more knowledgeable about nutrition and how to eat more healthily at traditional meal-times.
‘It is at other vulnerable moments during the day – these snack o’clocks – when all the damage is done in diets.’
He also recommends avoiding coffee shops, as these are ‘like sweet shops to a child – offering all sorts of seemingly innocuous pleasures like lattes which are the enemies of good diets’, and opting out of the work tea round to avoid giving in to calorific accompaniments like biscuits.
What’s the most important rule when it comes to losing weight?
Earlier research by Forza Supplements asked 1,000 dieters when their best time to eat for maximum weight loss was. A massive 76% said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, with an even bigger 84% of slimmers stating that sticking to set mealtimes is vital when it comes to shifting those pounds. 72% said not to exceed the calories they had at lunchtime at dinner, to keep the intake even throughout the day, and two thirds of those surveyed recommended eating dinner before 7pm, saying that eating your evening meal earlier maximises weight loss as people are less active in the evenings. (That sounds familiar, we’re not sure how many calories it’s possible to burn sitting on the sofa!)
Skipping meals – what’s the harm?
It’s also worth noting that six out of ten respondents in the Forza research said that weight loss would be even more difficult if meals were missed. An alarming number of people fall into the diet trap of thinking that more meals missed will mean more pounds lost, but this is a huge weight-loss myth.
If your body isn’t getting food then it isn’t getting nourishment, so it stores fat as your metabolism slows down to reserve energy. You could initially lose weight, but you will just end up eating more later on and putting all the weight back on. Three meals a day with healthy snacks in-between is still the optimum way to lose the pounds and keep them off too.
So what should a day’s diet look like?
NHS recommends that for women wanting to lose weight, you should stick to an allowance of 1,400 calories a day. It’s important to start the day off with a good breakfast (just after 7am), so try hitting 400 calories if you can. All of these tasty breakfast options are 400 cals or less!
Blackcurrant bircher muesli: 395cals
Quick farmhouse fry-up: 221cals + 250ml glass of orange juice: 118cals = 339cals
Slimming World’s muffins with smoked salmon: 295cals + Tall Starbucks cappuccino: 90cals = 385cals
At lunchtime (between 12.30pm and 1pm) we’d recommend sticking to no more than 400 calories here too. You’ll need a boost halfway through the day to get you through to dinner and it’s important to give your body the nutrients and protein it needs. Opt for complex instead of refined carbohydrates such as those found in white pasta, rice and bread, so you stay fuller for longer and don’t experience an energy drop a couple of hours after lunch.
Spring vegetable tortilla: 390cals
Quick Quorn lunch bowl: 161cals + 1 wholemeal roll: 155cals = 316cals
Dinner (between 6pm and 6.30pm) can be fewer calories, so aim for around 300. You don’t want to feel too full before bed so go sparingly on the carbohydrates and fill up on protein (especially that found in chicken which aids sleep) and vegetables.
Mellow-spiced chicken and chickpeas: 309cals
Peppers with spicy turkey stuffing: 302cals
Split pea and vegetable curry: 300cals
If you stick to 400 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch and 300 for dinner then you’ll be able to treat yourself to two 100 calorie snacks throughout the day and still leave an extra 100 for any milk in tea and coffee throughout the day, and fruit too (there are 52 calories in a small apple, 53 in a pear, 59 in an orange and 89 in a banana).
You can pick two of any of these snacks under 100 calories, from jaffa cakes and a glass of wine, to yogurt and pretzels!
What do the experts say?
Forza Supplements’ Lee Smith said ‘The results show that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day for successful dieters. Skipping it just makes you hungrier and more likely to over-indulge in later meals – causing a surge in blood sugar.’
And it seems that eating at regular times doesn’t just have a positive effect on weight loss. Nutritional Therapist for Bio-Kult probiotic Natalie Lamb also suggests that eating at regular times of the day can also help with effective digestion and removal of waste, all important for the good health of your gut. She suggests that cutting down on our intake of sugary food can ward off unwanted bacteria and yeast, and that it’s ‘best to eat at regular times each day of the body naturally knows when to expect food and to produce the correct digestive enzymes.’