The question: To lose weight, does it matter when I eat? Or just what I eat?
The experts: Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., Sports Nutritionist for USANA Health Sciences; Jacqui Justice, clinical nurse specialist, director of nutrition at Womens Healthy Hormones T
he answer: Just like romance and bargain shopping, healthy eating is all about having the right timing. Sure, a calorie is still a calorie, but how you time those calories can influence your metabolism and satiety levels, potentially making the difference between weight lost and weight gained. “Body weight control is a complex dance between the drivers of metabolism: the brain, hormones and neurotransmitters, and your metabolic processes,” says Kleiner. And if any of those factors perceives that you’re low on calories throughout the day, it’ll slow metabolism, increase appetite, and stall your weight loss efforts. So first thing’s first: Eat breakfast! And not once you get to work—we’re talking first thing in the morning. Justice recommends eating within an hour of waking up, and if you can get in some water then, all the better. Both ramp up your metabolism by telling your body it doesn’t need to conserve energy (aka calories). If your stomach is uneasy in the morning, at least drink some water. Just remember that the longer you wait to eat breakfast, the longer you wait to burn calories.
Next, don’t go more than three hours between meals and (protein-packed!) snacks. “This will help to keep your blood sugar balanced throughout the day, your metabolism revved, and your energy up,” says Justice.
And as the sun sets, so should your eating for the day. “My experience is that my clients that finish dinner by 7:30 lose more weight and have more energy the next day than do my late eaters,” says Justice, who notes your metabolism starts to slow down around 4p.m. and hits its lowest point when you’re sleeping. After all, your body doesn’t have to burn through as many calories when you’re zonked out.
Of course, there’s no strict mealtime schedule that will guarantee weight loss, but if you’re looking to slim down, Justice suggests eating your bigger meals earlier in the day and lighter meals in the evening. Luckily, if you load up on a healthy and satisfying breakfast, the rest of your day—and weight loss—should fall into place more easily.