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Big Meals & Weight Loss


QUESTION:

Is there any truth to the commonly held belief that eating later in the day is detrimental to weight loss?  I know that it is best not to skip meals, but my schedule is so hectic that there are times that I don't get to eat a proper meal until dinner time.  I'm concerned because I'm trying to ensure that I get the required number of calories per day, but that can be a lot of calories in one sitting.

ANSWER:

Another great question!  Unfortunately, good questions seldom have easy answers.  This one is no exception.  The question of whether or not eating the majority of your calories at night is detrimental to weight loss is actually somewhat controversial.  Thoughts over the last decade or so have predominantly been that a calorie is a calorie, no matter when you eat it.  However, there is some recent research that shows when the majority of daily calories are ingested in the morning vs. in the evening, there are subtle benefits to weight loss.  For example, one study showed that total calorie intake was higher in individuals who ingested more of their calories later in the day.  However, to complicate the issue, additional research shows that ingesting the majority of calories in the evening actually favors lean body mass preservation compared to morning ingestion of the majority of calories.  Remember, though, that neither scenario of ingesting most of your calories in one sitting is ideal – no matter what time of day.

The truth of the matter is that the difference in weight loss between the two groups (i.e., morning eaters vs. evening eaters) is pretty small.  More research needs to be done before we change the current recommendation of eating smaller meals spread evenly throughout the day.  This sound recommendation is based on preventing any extended period of caloric restriction, which can cause the body to break down muscle fibers and possibly trigger overeating.

However, given that life is not always ideal, it is better to eat late in the evening than not at all.  Most importantly, you need to listen to your internal hunger cues and eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.  Do not overeat in one sitting simply to get in the recommended calories for the day.  We as a society are very much out of touch with our innate hunger signals.  We have dieted, over-eaten, ignored and abused our internal signals into oblivion.  Attempt to re-connect with these signals and honor them with satisfying food throughout the day.  A little planning beforehand will enable you to do this more easily.  Experiment with easy-to-eat foods until you find some that can be easily integrated into your busy schedule.  Some examples are dried fruit, cheese sticks, energy bars, fresh fruit, shakes and fruit smoothies.  Taking the time to care for your body will provide you with generous returns in the long run.

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Our expert, Dr. Sharon E. Griffin, holds a B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in the areas of exercise science/physiology.  She also holds a second M.S. degree in Nutrition and is a licensed nutritionist and an ACSM certified health and fitness instructor.
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