When is as important as what.
The simple truth is: The timing of your food matters just as much as your diet. And get this: in many, many cases — meal timing matters even more than diet.
That idea would have sounded crazy to me a decade ago!
Personally, it took me over 9 years of experimentation with diets to realize how important early meals are to my digestion, sleep, hormones, and metabolism.
Learn from my mistake! Don’t waste time with a focus that’s too narrow (only diets).
Early meals improve your:
Remember, there is often an adjustment period anytime we change up our diet — including when we eat.
If the body is not used to a food — or eating earlier — it will take some time to get used to it.
We have to train our bodies, sometimes, to do what’s best for them.
And of course, don’t be too rigid: just because it’s better to eat earlier, doesn’t mean strict rules must be followed.
With that out of the way, let’s explore what you need to know about early meals.
There’s a lot of advice these days thrown around, especially online.
Some of it is based on very preliminary science. The truth is that the science on meal timing is decidedly in its infancy. Very much in its infancy.
As a result, we’re seeing open season for health recommendations: all sorts of fasting strategies, intermittent fasting. Even people recommending to only eat in the dark!
The research does not recommend that all people should do any of these things!
Actual findings about meal timing — as of 2023 — are pretty narrow. Even if online folks (like me) want to make it seem otherwise.
Therefore, I exhort you to maintain skepticism when you hear recommendations from leading online gurus (even those zealous MDs & PhDs) that give strong advice about when & how to eat for optimal health.
There are side effects to many of their recommendations — side effects that can harm you over time.
Weight Loss Tricks vs Health
What’s also true is that so much dietary science is focused on weight loss.
And here’s the problem with that: What works for temporary weight loss — in an otherwise normal person — is rarely what’s most healthy.
If you’re trying to recover lost health, most weight-loss strategies aren’t going to improve your health. They’re just as likely to induce hypothyroidism or insomnia — by depleting your resources.
It’s less ‘you are what you eat’,https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/when-you-eat-is-more-important-than-what-you-eat-study-says-a7094986.html
and more ‘you are when you eat.’
Let’s skip all questionable advice, and look for concepts that might be most reliable.
I believe that, if we look, we can build a foundation from them.
Let’s start with the most basic: Timing our meals probably matters for our health.
A Robust Circadian Clock
“Defined eating patterns… may prevent disease.”
“Optimizing the timing of external cues with defined eating patterns can sustain a robust circadian clock, which may prevent disease and improve prognosis”.https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1568163716303014
“Food consumption can also entrain the endogenous clock but has a stronger influence on peripheral clocks than on the SCN.”
Meal timing seems to strongly impact blood sugar stability.
Stable Blood Sugar
“Notable changes occur” with proper meal timing.
“This report demonstrates that meal timing exerts a variable influence over human physiological rhythms, with notable changes occurring in aspects of glucose homeostasis.”https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5483233/
Blood sugar stability matters for:
Meal timing affects your circadian rhythm.
An Improved Circadian Rhythm
Relevant “for patients with circadian rhythm disorders.”
“Timed meals therefore play a role in synchronizing peripheral circadian rhythms in humans and may have particular relevance for patients with circadian rhythm disorders, shift workers, and transmeridian travelers.”
We know that breakfasts uniquely support many vital systems.
Breakfast is (Very) Healthy
Healthier heart, better blood sugar, higher insulin sensitivity, and less diabetes.
Note: In this study, a “bigger” breakfast doesn’t mean huge. It simply means “not a snack”.
“The “big” breakfast group experienced a 33% drop in triglyceride levels — a marker associated with heart disease risk — while the group that ate the higher-calorie dinner experienced a 14.6% increase. The bigger breakfast group also experienced greater reductions in fasting glucose, insulin and insulin resistance scores, all of which indicate decreased risk for type 2 diabetes, according to the study’s authors.”
A more substantial breakfast generally supports weight loss.
A ‘Substantial’ Breakfast
Note: A “big breakfast” simply means “not too small” here. Doesn’t have to be huge to be effective.
“After 12 weeks, the big breakfast group lost about 2½ times more weight than big dinner group… and lost over 4 more inches around their waist.”https://www.cnn.com/2017/05/19/health/weight-loss-circadian-rhythms-drayer/index.html
Skipping breakfast is associated with gaining weight.
Skipping Breakfast = Weight Gain
(Even With Identical Daily Calories)
“The link between breakfast skipping and obesity had once been thought to be due to overcompensation of calories at subsequent meals” but it turns out that “something else about skipping breakfast — aside from potentially eating more calories later in the day — must explain the greater risk of weight gain among breakfast skippers.”Dr. Tamara Duker Freuman
Time for a comment!
This finding is really huge. Why? Well, we already know that skipping early meals causes more calories to be eaten later in the day. This isn’t good for weight loss — and it’s not good for general health, either!
But this finding demonstrates something even more remarkable: Even when we don’t overeat later in the day — calories are precisely the same — we still gain weight by eating later in the day. Pretty remarkable!
Meal timing schedule not synchronized with the circadian clock (i.e., skipping breakfast) are associated with disrupted clock gene expression and is linked to [hyperglycemia].https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34063109/
Meal timing seems so effective that researchers have invoked the word “magic” to describe the effects.
is “Metabolic Magic”
“It wasn’t just that people were less hungry and eating less at night, but it pointed to the fact that there might be some sort of underlying metabolic magic going on, where the timing of calories and carbs mattered more than the total amount of calories and carbs eaten in a day. It helped me understand what I was intuitively seeing in my patients.”Dr. Tamara Duker Freuman
It’s not just calories. It’s timing those calories.
Moreover, in humans, timing of the main meal in the course of the day influences the risk of obesity and success of weight loss therapy. Late lunch eaters lost less weight on a hypocaloric diet than early eaters . Subjects assigned to a high caloric intake during breakfast showed greater weight loss and lower daily glucose, insulin, and ghrelin concentrations and hunger scores than subjects assigned to the same high caloric intake during dinner .https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6514931/