Timing of Meals Affects Weight Loss

Dad and JJ in ParisWhen you eat your main meal, may affect weight loss more than other factors. By eating your main meal in the early afternoon there is more weight loss than when that same meal is eaten in the evening.

First an anecdote:
My 88 year old father has lost 40 pounds since he retired in 1980. When he retired, he weighed 190 pounds at 5 foot 8 inches tall. Prior to retiring he had a major heart attack, requiring three weeks in the hospital, and almost a year of sick time. My fathers pre-heart attack diet was good: he ate healthy meals of breakfast, lunch, and dinner – all prepared by my mother. But  when he retired he started to lose weight. Slowly, but steadily. His weight loss is attributed to one factor; since retiring he and my mother rarely eat dinner. My father has also developed a sweet tooth and enjoys a lot of ice cream, morning muffins with coffee, and other assorted sweets.

Study shows those who have the majority of their calories earlier in the day lose more weight

That anecdote was confirmed recently in a study published in The International Journal of Obesity. They noted that those who ate their main meal before 3 pm lost more weight than those who ate their main meal afte 3 pm. Their conclusion was:

“Eating late may influence the success of weight-loss therapy. Novel therapeutic strategies should incorporate not only the caloric intake and macronutrient distribution-as is classically done-but also the timing of food.”

In my practice, morbidly obese patients who come to us for weight loss surgery eat the majority of their calories after 3 pm, and some  eat all of their calories after 3 pm.  Patients who were successful at losing weight and keeping it off, had changed that habit -and the main meal was no longer “supper”.

In over 200 successful long-term patients, all of whom had the Lap-Band for over five years, and all maintaining a normal weight (BMI of less than 24 ) the average calorie consumption after 3 pm was less than 300 calories.

Another study noted that cultures (primarily Mediterranean) who eat their main meal before 3 pm (we would call it lunch) tend to have less obesity.

But it compares with another anecdote:  I lost a lot of weight in 2009, in fact one of my physician colleagues was concerned with my weight loss and asked me to get some tests to rule out cancer. During that time I rarely ate dinner.  Then I met my wife, and enjoyed showing off my cooking skills to her. I regained the weight easily.

This article has changed one simple thing in our lives: we no longer have dinner as our main meal.  Mid-day is our main meal, and dinner is replaced with a simple snack.


Baron KG, Reid KJ, Kern AS, Zee PC. Role of sleep timing in caloric intake and BMI. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011 Jul;19(7):1374-81. PMID: 21527892

Garaulet M, Gómez-Abellán P, Alburquerque-Béjar JJ, Lee YC, Ordovás JM, Scheer FA. Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Jan 29. PMID: 23357955

Dr. Terry Simpson About Dr. Terry Simpson
Dr. Terry Simpson received his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Chicago where he spent several years in the Kovler Viral Oncology laboratories doing genetic engineering. He found he liked people more than petri dishes, and went to medical school. Dr. Simpson, a weight loss surgeon is an advocate of culinary medicine. The first surgeon to become certified in Culinary Medicine, he believes teaching people to improve their health through their food and in their kitchen. On the other side of the world, he has been a leading advocate of changing health care to make it more "relationship based," and his efforts awarded his team the Malcolm Baldrige award for healthcare in 2011 for the NUKA system of care in Alaska and in 2013 Dr Simpson won the National Indian Health Board Area Impact Award. A frequent contributor to media outlets discussing health related topics and advances in medicine, he is also a proud dad, husband, author, cook, and surgeon “in that order.” For media inquiries, please visit www.terrysimpson.com.

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