Americans spend billions of dollars on the weight loss industry sussing the best diet to attain a lean figure when research is proving it's not only about WHAT we eat but also WHEN we eat.
In the 1970s mealtimes were easily blurred with snacks. The average American was no longer eating breakfast at 8 am lunch at noon, (no snacks) and home for dinner by 6 pm. Modern living has wiped away the pattern to naturally intermittent fast 14 hours from breakfast to dinner, leaving a window of eating for 10 hours during the day.
Some advice even suggests eating 6 small meals a day. Why? Many think it's to rev the metabolism. However, I argue this is not true. Another reason may be to manage the endless marketing and subconscious message that we need to fear hunger. "Hungry? Grab a Snickers," or "Do the Dew," better yet, "It Melts in your Mouth, Not in Your Hand." When my dear 90-year-old grandma was a girl, I bet she had no idea what the saying "Snack Attack" meant. While the effort is there to do better, including the Grocery Manufacturing Association taking the initiative to offer healthier snacks to kids, we are all missing the message: we don't need to eat at all hours of the day. It's not favorable on the wallet, waistline nor hormones.
- Make eating an experience, start the day strong with a solid meal and have boundaries of giving your body the time to rest and digest.
- The best ingredient in a meal is hunger and a meal should satiate enough to go to from one meal to the next. One caveat for this is if lunch and dinner are greater than 6 hours apart.
- Additionally, if you are not hungry when you wake, it's okay to defer breakfast for a few hours -- but it's not to be skipped.
What else matters with a pattern of eating? Is it better to have a large meal for dinner or earlier? Let's follow the research by looking at a few strong studies.
A 2013 study, including 2 groups of overweight women were randomly assigned to eat either a large breakfast or a large dinner. Both ate 1400 calories per day, with the study variable of the largest meal being breakfast or dinner. This is what the results showed:
Large breakfast group = lost far more weight than the dinner group. How? One studied lab showed the dinner group had a much larger overall rise in insulin.
Additionally, a 1992 study showed similar results. With a large meal, the insulin response was 25-50% greater in the evening. The higher the insulin response in the evening was translating into more weight gain for the dinner group. Importantly this showcases how obesity is a hormonal, not caloric, imbalance. Losing weight and maintaining a lower weight is not a calorie counting game. There is much more to it.
- Eat like a prince for breakfast, a king for lunch and a pauper for dinner.
- If diabetic, minimalize blood sugar variation by taking insulin medication prior to meals. As a type 1, I find I need 10 minutes before breakfast, nearly 20 minutes before lunch and 15 minutes of a pre-bolus of insulin before dinner.
- Another practice that is more well-known to satiety and health is to never eat a carbohydrate food (fruit, grains, starchy vegetable) alone. Pair a carbohydrate food with protein or fat or both to minimize any blood sugar spikes.
Next up, what is the most important meal of the day? Well, they all are important for different reasons, but it's essential for our health to allow for time to rest and digest (don't eat all day nor night).
Overall, breakfast shall not be skipped or be skimpy. A calorie-loaded meal at the beginning of the day pays off with hunger and hormone control, prevents snacking and cravings and can help blood sugar control and weight management. A good idea = vegetable, 3 egg omelet with coffee and a spoonful of coconut oil.
Lunch shall be valued and large. Hormonally, lunch is the best meal to have the most carbohydrates (fruit, lentils, beans, gluten free grains, and my preference and favorite, starchy vegetables) consumed. Protein is essential for blood sugar control and satiety, as is fat.
If dinner is more than 6 hours from lunch, pack a small snack; not a small meal. Choose something that is gentle on blood sugars (nuts, jerky, raw vegetables, coconut, avocado, olives) and is sufficient to retain hunger excitement for the next meal. Dinner can be a smaller version of lunch and once it is enjoyed and finished, the kitchen is closed.
- Do a self-experiment and see how many hours you go from one day to the next without eating. Attempt again and this time try to have a 13-hour gap, which is reflective with the sunset to sunrise. Do you feel any different? Did you sleep any sounder? Continue to play with this until you reach a timeframe that feels intuitive and beneficial. I like using a smartphone app called Zero to help with the tracking.
Before one immediately makes it a goal to stop eating after dinner and adjusting meal sizes, a healthy bedtime should be in place first. Meals need to be large enough so this new pattern doesn't lead to undereating. Remember if weight loss is a goal, successful weight loss is about balancing hormones. Eating in the evening can disrupt circadian rhythms and therefore hormones. If hunger persists at night, be sure breakfast is large enough and understand hunger comes in waves. Additionally, if omitting a snack presents a very stressful process, ease into the practice. Overall, every meal is important and so is how we eat it when we eat it.