Back when I was in high school and college, I was definitely someone who ate much more after school and at dinnertime than I did earlier in the day. In high school, I'd come home ravenous and eat a snack that was more like a meal. And I'd usually top that off with a hearty home-cooked dinner my mother made.
In college, all bets were off. Depending on the day, I'd start with a small breakfast (usually just cereal and milk or scrambled eggs and toast), have a large lunch and an even bigger dinner. And like many college students who are awake for far more hours than they should be, I had lots of midday snacks and often took to feasting late at night on pizza or cheese fries. Did I mention I was overweight most of my high school and early college years?
Of course, my extra weight had less to do with when I ate than what and how much I ate (in college, I never thought twice about eating a full-sized hoagie, two slices of pizza or an entire Styrofoam box full of chicken and broccoli from the Chinese food cart on campus for lunch or dinner). But when I eventually decided to get healthier, the first thing I did was cut my food portions. I also added more nutritious foods to my diet, ate more regularly and mindfully and made regular physical activity more of a priority. Since my junior year of college, I've lost more than 20 pounds (more than 30 since high school) and have kept the weight off for more than a decade.
When asked the secret of my long-term weight loss success, alongside keeping portions small and not drinking alcohol (I'd rather spend those calories on food), I usually say becoming more of a daytime eater. It's something that feels comfortable to me and that seems to work for my early-to-rise, (somewhat) early-to-bed lifestyle.
Rather than go to bed on a full stomach, I get the vast majority of my daily calories well before dinnertime. And by the time I go to bed, I'm usually a little hungry. That helps me easily want and need a hearty morning meal the next day to get myself going.
Only time will tell if being more of a daytime eater will prove to play a key role – or any role – in helping people lose or manage their weight, or enhance overall long-term health. But there's some evidence to suggest it just might help – at least among those who are overweight or obese.
In a new study published in Obesity, overweight and obese women who had metabolic syndrome followed a 12-week weight-loss diet comprised of three meals that totaled 1400 calories. The women were split into two groups: One group consumed half of their total daily calories (700) as breakfast and had a 500-calorie lunch and a 200-calorie dinner; the other group consumed a 200-calorie breakfast, a 500-calorie lunch and half their total daily calories (700) as dinner.
The researchers found that while all participants lost weight and experienced improvements in several measures – including waist circumference, fasting glucose, insulin and triglyceride levels – the women in the big-breakfast group lost more weight and had greater reductions in all measures than the women in the big-dinner group. There was also a significant increase in "good" HDL cholesterol levels only among those in the big-breakfast group.
A previous study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that among 420 individuals who followed a 20-week weight-loss program, those who ate lunch late (after 3 p.m.) lost less weight, and lost it more slowly, than those who ate lunch early (before 3 p.m.). Those in the late-lunch group were also more likely to skimp on or skip breakfast altogether than those in the early lunch group.
Although calories in and calories out and the quality of the calories you consume matter when it comes to weight management, one thing is clear. Eating regularly and moderately is a good way to fuel yourself, steady blood sugar levels and keep your metabolism revved up. Becoming more of a daytime eater and eating when you need energy most can likely keep you fueled, energized and satisfied. And if it can even help your bottom line when it comes to weight and health, why not give it a try?
Here are three quick tips to help you become more of a daytime eater:
1. Eat breakfast – even if you start small. If you frequently give up or miss out on a morning meal, keep on hand a variety of staples. You can easily create a quick, nutritious and satisfying morning meal by mixing and matching among these items: hard-boiled eggs, whole-grain toast, crackers, cereal, waffles, fresh and unsweetened frozen fruit, raw veggies, low-fat milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, nut butters and seeds.
To save time during your morning rush, make a smoothie or some hard-boiled eggs, or cut up fruit or veggies ahead of time. Waking up five to 10 minutes early can also make a big difference and even give you enough time to make a simple omelet or some French toast.
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Once you start eating breakfast, you'll notice that your body will rely on it for maximal energy – especially during the early part of the day when many of us need to be ON both physically and mentally.
2. Snack Smart – late in the day. One way to reduce extreme hunger when dinnertime rolls around is to plan for a hearty midday snack. Pairing protein-rich foods and produce is a great way to fill up, stay satisfied and prime yourself to need – and have – a smaller dinner. Some nutrient-rich options include hummus and cut-up vegetables, low-fat yogurt topped with fresh fruit and/or some nuts, peanut or almond butter and banana on whole-grain bread or crackers or whole-grain crackers topped with cheese.
3. Downsize your dinner. Having a small dinner a few hours before you hit the hay is a great way to minimize the effects a big evening meal might otherwise have on your ability to fall and stay asleep. Filling a small plate or bowl with a combination of vegetables, whole grains (like whole-wheat pasta) or starchy vegetables (like potatoes) and a small amount of lean protein (chicken, fish, lean beef or beans) can easily satisfy you without stuffing you.
Hungry for more? Write to email@example.com with your questions, concerns, and feedback.
Elisa Zied, MS, RD, CDN, is the founder and president of Zied Health Communications, LLC, based in New York City. She's an award-winning registered dietitian and author of three books including Nutrition At Your Fingertips. A graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, Zied inspires others to make more healthful food choices and find enjoyable ways to "move it or lose it" through writing, public speaking, and media appearances. She writes the twice-weekly blog, The Scoop on Food, for Parents.com, and her new book, Younger Next Week, will be published by Harlequin Non Fiction on December 31, 2013. You can connect with her on twitter (@elisazied) and through her website: www.elisazied.com.