Lose weight—this is the best time for dinner

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Recent studies show that the timing of the evening meal is very relevant for weight management because it also influences what we eat.

One aspect of controlling your weight is the timing of your meals. While some scientists insist that the effects of caloric intake on the body are the same whether you eat your last meal of the day at 4 p.m. or 10 p.m., recent studies show the opposite. They show that the timing of food intake significantly impacts how the body processes calories. So, what’s the healthiest time of day to eat dinner?

“We wanted to investigate the mechanisms that explain why late-night eating increases obesity risk,” said lead researcher Frank Scheer, director of the Medical Chronobiology Program in the Brigham Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders, in a media release. “Previous research by us and others has shown that late-night eating is associated with increased obesity risk, body fat percentage and impaired weight loss. We wanted to understand why.”

One study explored that question. A team of researchers from Mass General Brigham Health System found that the timing of eating significantly impacts calorie consumption, hunger and fat metabolism. The study found that eating at 10 p.m. instead of 6 p.m. simultaneously affects the three major players in regulating body weight. These are energy expenditure, regulation of food intake and chemical changes in adipose tissue.
The study followed a protocol of timed meals, blood sampling and adipose tissue biopsies. The researchers report that eating later profoundly affected hunger and appetite-regulating hormones. Levels of the hormone leptin, associated with feelings of fullness, were lower whenever participants ate the later meals. They also burned calories more slowly and formed adipose tissue more easily. According to Vujovic, these findings are consistent with a large body of research suggesting that eating later increases the risk of obesity.

Another study from Canada confirms the findings of Scheer and his team. In this cross-sectional study, the researchers used data from 301 people, 56 percent of whom were women. Total energy intake was determined using a three-day food log, from which the percentage of total calorie intake after 5 p.m. and after 8 p.m. was calculated. Eating behaviour characteristics and psychosocial factors were assessed with questionnaires. Eating late was less associated with healthy eating behaviour, which could explain the link between the timing of food intake and obesity.

Overeating also tends to occur more in the evening because self-control and fatigue are lower. Eating because others are eating and eating while watching television contributes to late-night eating. Alcohol consumption and more opportunities to eat alone or at home than at work or school were also associated with late eating. It is also possible that late eating results from less energy during the day. When you don’t eat enough during the day, cravings strike in the evening, and you reach for unhealthy foods more rashly.

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