September 29, 2023

A dietician has revealed the worst time to eat dinner if you are worried about weight gain and it might just have you rethinking your plans this evening.

It’s often said that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. There’s plenty of scientific evidence to support that idea too. A 2019 study published in the International Journal of Nutrients concluded that, when it comes to breakfast, bigger is definitely better for those looking to lose weight.

Researchers from the University of Murcia in Spain found that people who ate a larger breakfast and then a smaller dinner lost more weight and had improved metabolic health markers compared with those who ate the other way around.

Essentially, eating more of your daily calories earlier in the day gives you more time to burn them off, making it significantly easier to lose or maintain weight loss when combined with a smaller evening meal.

However, according to Brea Lofton, a registered dietician at Lumen, the company behind the world’s first metabolic health device that tracks progress through breath, it’s not enough to simply have a smaller dinner. It’s also about when you have it.

Lofton told Newsweek: “To help your body efficiently metabolize your meals and avoid weight gain, it’s best to eat your last meal early in the evening to maintain the harmony with your body’s natural circadian rhythm, which plays a crucial role in regulating various physiological processes, including digestion, sleep, and hormone production.”

A woman eating a bowl of pasta.
Stock image of a woman eating a bowl of pasta. The best time to eat dinner has been revealed by a leading dietician.
Drazen Zigic/Getty

In essence, the same logic that says starting the day with a big breakfast applies. But with dinner, there’s another factor in play: sleep. Studies have already highlighted the negative impact poor diet can have on sleep.

A research paper published in the journal Obesity earlier this year identified a direct link between unhealthy diets and poorer deep sleep quality. In a series of experiments, researchers found that consuming junk food impacted the depth or restorative quality of sleep.

Overall, the impact of an unhealthy diet on deep sleep was found to be similar to the shifts in sleep quality that occur in aging or in disruptive conditions like insomnia.

However, Loften believes it’s not just about what you eat but when you eat it. To put it simply: the earlier the better.

“By eating several hours before bedtime, you provide your body with time to digest and absorb nutrients, and allow for more restful and restorative sleep, as the body can focus on repair and rejuvenation rather than digestion during the night,” Lofton said.

So, when is the best time to eat dinner if we are looking to maintain or lose weight?

“Overall, it’s best to stop eating three hours before bed,” Lofton said. “It helps the body shift to burning fat as fuel in the morning, the key to having a functioning metabolism which leads to easier weight management.”

A study published in the scientific journal Cell Metabolism last year said that eating later in the day had a negative impact on weight gain. Researchers found that eating four hours later than normal led to noticeable changes in some of the physiological and molecular mechanisms in the body. It increases overall obesity risk and reduces the amount of sleep you enjoy, which is also crucial when it comes to burning fat.

The message from both the research and dieticians alike is clear: a balanced diet is important but, the later you eat, the worse it is for weight gain.

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