Despite popular belief, this meal should actually be biggest of the day

The research concluded that individuals that ate later were associated with higher weight gain and greater body mass index.

A recent preliminary week-long endocrinology study set to premiere at the Endocrine Society’s Annual meeting this Saturday in New Orleans, explores the correlation eating later shares with a larger body mass index and body fat.

Adnin Zaman, of The University of Colorado School of Medicine and colleagues, analyzed a group of individuals for the study, 90% of which were women with an average age of about 36.


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The study began by introducing a trial that limited the hours in which individuals were allowed to consume calories.

Each participant was given a little electronic device to strap to their thighs that monitored their activity and sedentary period. They were also equipped with an Actiwatch, which examines sleep and wake patterns. The individuals were also tasked with uploading pictures of their meals on an app called Meat Logger.  All participants received an average of seven hours of sleep and consumed calories over an eleven hour period, with most of the latest photo entries coming in around 8 pm.

The research concluded that individuals that ate later were associated with higher weight gain and greater body mass index. Although the endocrinology study focused primarily on women the researchers believe the data could easily apply to men.

In fact, this development adds to research that uncovered similar conclusions. Experts from Brigham University tested the well-observed theory through an experiment of their own on a group of young men.

They tracked participants for two weeks with a control period. During the two weeks, the young men were not allowed to consume calories between 7 pm and 6 am.

In addition to losing weight during the experiment and gaining weight during the control period (the period of time wherein individuals went back to their normal diets and eating times), the results found participants consumed 238 fewer calories when they adhered to the time/eating restrictions provided by the researchers of the study.

To be clear, the endocrinologists that motioned the theory, set to be presented later this week, did not specify a particular time that individuals wishing to lose weight should curb their eating.

While the researchers behind the Brigham study tested 7 pm as a cut-off time, the data links the unhealthy habits that accompany snacking after dinner rather than the time itself.  But as we know the foods we consume after dinner are rarely composed of healthy options.

Why does late night snacking come with so much weight gain?

A paper published in February in the journal Current Biology further expounded upon how poor sleep cycles promote unhealthy eating habits. We simply use less energy to digest food as the day goes on, so that instead of burning calories we more readily convert them into fat.

Lona Sandon Ph.D. additionally occasions hormonal changes associated with times of day to influence weight gain.

On mass, if you stay within your recommended calorie intake, it’s possible to maintain a healthy weight if you’re a nocturnal snacker. Eating later just tends to put individuals at risk for over-eating-and over-eating particularly unhealthy foods at that.

Sandon suggests we eat a bigger lunch to combat late night cravings, saying, “Making the lunch meal the largest meal of the day, with at least a little something for breakfast, has worked for some of my clients to be able to cut back at night or be satisfied with a light dinner.”

Her recommendation doesn’t stand alone. Writer Kelly Burch made lunch the biggest meal of the day for a month and reported her findings in a piece published by Prevention.com.

Burch found her self eating less, experiencing fewer crashes and getting better sleep as a direct result of the change. The results were so promising Burch intends to make it a staple to her dietary routine, explaining,

“Eating a bigger meal in the middle of the day just felt healthier than having a heaping plate of food a few hours before bed. That combined with the benefits to my work productivity and evening routine means that eating a larger lunch and lighter dinner is definitely a habit I will keep,” she said.


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CW Headley|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com.