We all know weight loss can be tricky. To stay on track, you need to find a diet plan that’s tailored to your lifestyle and your own body’s needs. Much of the current advice to dieters puts the most emphasis on the type of food you eat, restricting the number of calories per day and opting for low fat, low sugar foods. But there is also a growing school of thought that promotes the fact that when you eat could be just as important.
It goes without saying that eating a full 16-inch pizza just before bed isn’t going to do you any favours when it comes to weight loss. Yet the latest research suggests that eating at night can mess with the body’s internal systems that regulate how quickly you burn calories – even if the meal is relatively healthy. It’s thought that eating outside of daylight hours can change the way your body processes food and turns it into energy, meaning it is not as efficient at fuelling your body as when you eat during the daytime.
The latest study to look at the link between when you eat and weight gain is by researchers at the University of Aberdeen, who examined a group of people and the times of day they consumed their calories. They found that humans use calories differently when they are consumed in the morning compared the evening. The study concluded that people eating their calories in the morning could lose more weight.
It’s all to do with the natural process in our bodies that regulates when we are asleep and awake – known as the circadian rhythm. This sophisticated internal system sends signals to the body telling it when to feel tired in sync with natural hours of daylight and night time. The circadian rhythm can also change levels of hormones in the body, in line with what people eat, the time of day and how much exercise they have done.
The researchers found that eating late at night disrupted the circadian rhythm increasing appetite and decreasing energy levels. That means more calories eaten and less burned resulting in weight gain.
Another study in America tracked how a group of healthy individuals reacted to eating dinner at 6pm and at 10pm. The researchers found that blood sugar levels were up to 18 per cent higher, and the amount of ingested fat burned was around 10 per cent lower following the later dinner, even when the same meal was provided at the two different times. Over a sustained period of time this could lead to weight gain, obesity and a higher risk of diabetes and high blood pressure.
So, when should you eat to lose weight?
The body of evidence into the timing of meals and weight loss appears to be growing but
what works for one person may not work for another and there is no quick fix when it comes to dieting. A calorie-controlled diet combined with exercising at least three times a week is the best way to stay on track, but if you find you come to a plateau, you could try flipping the ‘traditional’ size and timings of your meals. Set yourself up for the day with a hearty breakfast, follow with a medium-sized lunch and then have a smaller dinner. And as a rule of thumb always avoid eating after 7pm.