Turns out morning people aren’t just happier than night-owls, they’re lighter, leaner and healthier, too. And it’s not just getting up early that keeps them trim–though, more on that to come. There are a number of things you can do in the first half of the day that keep you slim. Your carriage won’t turn into a pumpkin when the clock strikes 12, but you can bank on being slightly less pumpkin-shaped with these 8 Eat This, Not That!-approved, science-backed ways to nix the munchies, boost your metabolism and turbocharge your weight loss—all before noon.
Catch the Worm
The early bird may catch the worms, but he doesn’t overeat them. Or so suggests a recent study from Northwestern Medicine that found late sleepers—those who woke at about 10:45 a.m.—consumed 248 more calories a day, ate half as many fruits and vegetables and twice the fast food of those who set the alarm clock earlier. A second study by researchers from the Roehampton University found that ‘morning people’—those who leap out of bed at 6:58am, were generally healthier, thinner and happier than the night owls, who start their day at 8:54am. Coax yourself into waking up early by gradually setting your smartphone’s alarm clock 15 minutes earlier every week, and wake up to a slimmer you.
Get Some Nookie
A little sexy time before rush-hour can trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone naturally released during times of bonding, including sex, that research shows can minimize stress hormones and suppress the appetite. According to a study in the journal Aging, daily injections of oxytocin—dubbed “the love hormone,”—reduced the amount of food animals consumed, as well as abdominal fat and body weight during, and for nine days following the 17-day treatment. Other research suggests oxytocin and cortisol—the major stress hormone—are inversely related. As one goes up, the other goes down. That’s good news for your waistline, as elevated cortisol can increase your appetite and cause weight gain. If you’re a mom or dad, there’s even more reason to linger in bed: A study in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, showed parents’ stress levels are 30 per cent higher with the early-morning breakfast-before-the-school-bus rush, and peak at about 8:15am—about the time they head out the door.
Do the Sundance
Roll out of bed and, before you do anything else, open all the blinds. According to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, people who had most of their daily exposure to bright light in the morning had significantly lower body mass index (BMI) than those who had most of their light exposure late in the day—regardless of how much they ate. Researches say 20 to 30 minutes of morning light is enough to affect BMI, and even dim light with just half the intensity of sunlight on a cloudy day will do. According to study authors, morning rays help to synchronize the body’s internal clock that regulates circadian rhythms and metabolism. Just put your clothes on first.
Break Up with Joe
The coffee machine may be your favorite coworker, but there’s a caffeinated beverage that’s matcha better for weight loss: green tea—more specifically, matcha. Research shows the concentration of epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) in matcha—a Japanese green-tea powder—to be 137 times greater than the amount you’ll find in most store-bought green tea. EGCG is a dieter’s best friend; studies have shown the compound can simultaneously boost lipolysis (the breakdown of fat) and block adipogenesis (the formation of fat cells) particularly in the belly. One study found men who drank green tea containing 136 mg EGCG—what you’ll find in a single 4 gram serving of matcha—lost twice as much weight than a placebo group, and four times as much visceral (belly) fat over the course of 3 months. Meanwhile, a research team in Washington found that too much coffee (5 cups or more) doubled visceral belly fat. One 8 fluid ounce cup of matcha has about 70 mg caffeine—slightly less the 95 mg coffee equivalent, but enough to put some pep in your step. So kick Joe to the curb (or at least scale back your dates); green tea is so matcha better. (Don’t dig green? Sip on one of these 5 Best Teas for Weight Loss.)
Do Brunch Instead
How can Sunday’s lazy-morning routine keep you slim? No, it’s not the cartoons. Not the pjs. It’s the shift in your eating habits to later in the day. Nighttime fasting—or simply eating breakfast later than normal to reduce your “eating window”—may boost your body’s ability to burn fat as energy, according to a study in the journal Cell Metabolism. Researchers put groups of mice on a high-fat, high-calorie diet for 100 days. Half the mice were allowed to nibble throughout the night and day on a healthy, controlled diet, while the others only had access to food for eight hours, but could eat whatever they wanted. The result of the 16-hour food ban? The fasting mice stayed lean, while the mice who noshed ‘round the clock became obese—even though both groups consumed the same amount of calories. Some fasting protocols are more aggressive than others, but 12 hours without food is enough for most people to enter into a fasted state, according to some experts. So make every day Sunday Funday and postpone breakfast by a few hours. Your skinny jeans will thank you.
Resist the urge to have a mid-morning snack. A study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that mid-morning snackers tend to eat more throughout the day than afternoon snackers. Researchers found that dieters with the mid-morning munchies lost an average of 7 percent of their total body weight while those who did not snack before lunch lost more than 11 percent of their body weight. That’s a difference of nearly six and a half pounds for a 160-pound woman with a weight loss goal. Moreover, afternoon snacking was associated with a slightly higher intake of filling-fiber and fruits and vegetables. So nix “elevenses” as our British friends refer to the mid-morning snacks, and sip on cup of tea or calorie-free seltzer instead—both proven appetite suppressants. (When you finally reach for that mid-afternoon munchie, make sure it’s one of the 50 Best Snacks for Weight Loss.)
Walk It Out
Getting your heart rate up in the morning can zap calories, but one benefit of early a.m. exercise comes at night. That’s because working early in the day can help you get quality sleep—an essential and often overlooked component of successful dieting. In fact, new researchers suggests sub-par sleep could undermine weight loss by as much as 55 percent! In one study, participants who added 45 minutes of “moderate walking” five times a week to their weekly routine, reported 70 percent better sleep; and women whose gentle exercise routine consisted of three 15-30 minute stretching sessions per week saw a 30 percent improvement. Unlike afternoon and evening exercise that can rile us up before bed, researchers say morning exercise helps to sync our natural circadian rhythms, which can also support the metabolism. For an extra boost, try sneaking in your workout before breakfast. According to some studies, exercising in a fasted state can burn almost 20 percent more fat compared to exercising with fuel in the tank.
Muscle Up Your First Meal
You don’t need to stress out about eating breakfast before 9 a.m. (see tip #1), but when you finally do break-your-fast, make sure it’s rich in protein. A recent study in The FASEB Journal showed that when high-protein breakfasts help maintain blood sugar and insulin levels far better than lower-protein or no-protein meals. Big spikes and dips in blood sugar are bad news for weight loss, as the disruptions shift the body from a fat-burning to a fat-storing state. For the recent study, researchers tested three meals just under 300 calories with similar fat and fiber contents, but varying amounts of protein: a low-protein meal of pancakes that provided a measly 3 grams; a breakfast skillet with a moderate 30 grams of protein; and a third sausage-and-egg breakfast that served up 39 grams of muscle-building protein—more than three times what the average American woman consumes at breakfast. The results? Both protein-rich breakfasts led to lower spikes in blood sugar compared to the low-protein, high-carb pancakes, but the highest-protein breakfast was significantly more effective. Other research has shown dieters who eat eggs for breakfast as compared to a high-carb meal of a bagel have an easier time losing weight due to their satiety value. Bottom line: add protein to your first meal of the day. Eggs and egg whites, protein powder and Greek Yogurt are all great, low-fat options that can pack a protein punch. Check our guide to the 9 Best Brand Name Yogurts for Weight Loss for easy shopping.