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How the Timing of Your Meals Can Affect Weight Loss, According to Science

Eating early enough, while consuming a consistent, balanced diet, can help you lose weight.
FACT CHECKED BY Samantha Boesch

Sitting down for a meal at specifically scheduled times isn't always easy, especially when life gets particularly busy. However, it's important to be mindful of when you eat in order to ensure that your body remains as healthy as possible. In fact, science continues to show us that the timing of our meals can impact our weight loss goals, and specifically that eating later in the evening can make it more difficult to lose weight.

For example, in one small 20-person study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, it was found that those who ate dinner at 9 p.m. versus those who ate at 6 p.m. had higher levels of blood sugar the next morning, along with less fat oxidation. Another study, published in Nutrients, found that eating later in the evening may impact your weight loss because your body's ability to burn calories may be lower at night than it is throughout the rest of the day.

On top of this previous research, a new study also just found that eating later in the day may impact your metabolism and hunger hormones, which in turn can affect weight loss. Read on to learn more about the effects that eating late has on your ability to lose weight. Then, make sure to check out 7 'Healthy' Foods for You That Are Actually Worse Than Candy.

man eating late while working on laptop

In the new study that was published in Cell Metabolism, investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital conducted a randomized, controlled, crossover trial that took a look at the effect that eating later had on hunger, as well as weight gain and loss. They found that eating later increased hunger while also reducing the amount of energy that was used while awake. In fact, per Medscape, eating four hours later than you might normally affects the level of your appetite and the rate that you burn calories, as well as fat storage and potential weight loss.

"The timing of meals is one of the important factors in weight management," Catherine Gervacio, registered dietitian with Living.Fit, tells Eat This, Not That! "The findings in this study show how important it is to maintain a steady rate of metabolism by consistently eating at regular intervals. As opposed to the rising popularity of diet fasting, a regular meal interval of 3 to 4 hours is still ideal to keep the blood sugar consistent at its normal levels, and the metabolism at a steady rate."

"Eating later, as evidenced in the study, affects the supposed natural function of the body's hormones," Gervacio says. "Specifically the hormones ghrelin and leptin."

When it comes to the first, Gervacio explains that "ghrelin is popularly known as the 'hunger hormone' because it stimulates appetite." Because of that, "when the stomach is empty, ghrelin levels increase." Gervacio points out that "this resonates with the study's findings in which eating later may contribute to increased hunger and appetite and may lead to weight gain."

"Leptin, on the other hand, is responsible for the feeling of fullness," Gervacio says. "The study states that eating later decreases leptin levels, which means the 'feeling of fullness' decreases. When this happens, the body may naturally crave more food in a shorter time."

Finally, Gervacio tells us, "Each person has a different rate of metabolism. Therefore, every person needs a different daily caloric intake and macronutrient ratio. Aside from proper timing of meals, the best way to lose weight (or to prevent the risk of obesity) is to eat a well-balanced diet at regular, consistent intervals."

Desirée O
Desirée O is a freelance writer who covers lifestyle, food, and nutrition news among other topics. Read more about Desirée
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