Eating at the same time can give structure to your day and make mealtimes routine. But are there other benefits that make eating at the same time desirable?
According to dietary studies, following a regular eating time may reduce the chance of weight gain and other health risks associated with disrupting our bodies internal clock. Our appetite, digestion, metabolism, cholesterol, and glucose all follow a 24 hour pattern.
When I was younger, I would frequently skip breakfast or grab a breakfast bar and head out the door. I would also randomly snack or frequently skip meals. This would sometimes lead to binge eating or late night snacking and I didn’t think much of it.
However, as I get older, I’ve noticed that it’s not as easy to lose weight and my hunger is more noticeable if I skip a meal. Over the past few years I’ve been incorporating more routines into my daily and weekly schedule and have personally noticed many benefits to scheduling my meal times, including feeling full longer and less tendency to snack.
In this post I’m going to share what I’ve learned thus far about the health benefits of eating at regular times as well as some other considerations such as meal frequency, quantity and quality.
Benefits of a Regular Eating Pattern
Longer work days, irregular schedules and the tendency to eat more meals outside the home over the past few decades has prompted more research and study into the effects of our changing eating habits.
In two papers published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, multiple dietary studies were reviewed and they suggest eating at random times may be linked to high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
Gerda Pot, PhD, a physician who worked on one of the studies states that our internal body clock or circadian rhythms may be affected by inconsistent eating times.
She goes on to explain that many of our body’s processes follow a pattern that repeats every 24 hours. Important functions such as our digestion, appetite, and our bodies metabolism of fat all follow this pattern. She concludes that eating inconsistently may disrupt these patterns and lead to weight gain and other health risks.
She also states that some participants in the study ate more calories, but were less obese than other participants. She contributes this to the fact that those who consumed more calories ate at consistent times. While those who were more obese, but consumed less calories, ate at random times.
The study states that while more research is needed, the initial findings lead them to believe eating on a regular schedule does benefit our health.
Eating Frequency May Also Be an Important Factor
In another paper published by Harvard Medical School a study was conducted to see if there may be a correlation between how often we eat and our weight.
Their trial studied 51 people. Half of the group ate three meals per day and the other half of the group ate about 6 times per day. Each participant was given an individualized calorie limit based on their weight loss goal.
What they found at the end of the study is that both groups lost weight. Interestingly, no correlation was found between the frequency of the meals and the ability of the participant to loose weight.
However, what they did find is that participants who ate 6 times a day were less hungry and felt more satisfied throughout the day. They also found that the quality of the foods consumed by the participants contributed to the feeling of satiety in both groups. Those who ate foods higher in nutritional quality such as whole grains, vegetables, and lean proteins felt full longer.
So what can we learn from this study? Some of the tips they provide include:
- eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein foods that keep you satisfied longer
- balance high calorie foods such as carbohydrates and meat with highly nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables
- keep a food diary and track what you eat
- create a meal plan so you don’t skip meals or allow yourself to get too hungry
- skip high-calorie beverages like soda and sweetened drinks
- make lifestyle change social by joining a community or getting others involved like a friend or your family
When to Eat Your Main Meal of the Day?
So far we’ve learned that eating at a consistent time each day can have some health benefits. We’ve also learned that the quality of the food we eat and making sure we are eating food that is satisfying is important.
Is there anything else we need to take into consideration? Intermittent fasting is very popular nowadays and lots of people swear by consuming all their calories during a certain time frame, or not eating after a certain time of day.
While this post is not going to get into the details of intermittent fasting, I do want to explore what experts have to say about what time of day is best for eating your biggest meal.
A 2013 study published by the Obesity Society found that women who ate their largest meal at breakfast and smallest meal at dinner had lower blood sugar levels and lost more weight.
Additionally, another study published by the International Journal of Obesity the same year found that people who ate the majority of their calories before 3 p.m. lost more weight than those who ate their main meal after 3 pm.
If you are looking to lose weight, both these studies appear to indicate that eating the bulk of your calories earlier in the day is the way to go.
It was also found that eating more of your calories in the earlier part of the day tends to keep you more satisfied and less likely to snack later in the afternoon and evening.
Does Eating at Different Times Matter?
With everything we’ve covered thus far does eating at different times matter as long as you are eating enough calories? We may conclude that eating time is less important than the overall time of day that we eat. However, what is the consensus among those in dietary nutritional field?
According to my research, most dietitians now agree that the most important factors to consider are:
- the total amount of calories that you consume each day
- quality of calories you eat (the keep you satisfied)
- as well as the time of day that you eat
There are some health benefits to having a set eating time each day as well as a set window of time for eating. Registered Dietitian, Samatha Cassetty recommends giving your body time to digest by finishing snacks and meals a few hours before you go to bed.
Referring once again to our circadian rhythm – she says eating before bedtime can disrupt our bodies processes that happen while we sleep. In turn this can disrupt our hormones and cause imbalances that lead to overeating, weight gain and other digestive issues.
She says allowing our bodies the time it needs to fully rest, digest and “recalibrate” is a smart call. She also reiterates the importance of having a balanced breakfast and keeping dinner light and lean.
What is your preference? Do you have set meal times of do you play it by ear?