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.

Share this article on social media!

Latest Comments

  1. Neal W. says:

    I wouldn’t say this study allows for the conclusion that you should not eat dinner as your main meal. It merely found that the timing of lunch lead to differences in weight loss.

    Other studies which have concentrated calories later in the day have not found the same result as this study.

  2. Robert says:

    Thank you for affirming this for me. I always sort of knew it, but it’s good to hear other experiences.

  3. thedoc says:

    The study showed that there was a difference in when the main meal of the day was – in the case of this, because of the Mediterranean location – that meal was lunch. This meal comprised about 40% of the calories – and the group that lost the most weight – with all other issues being the same, were those that ate consistently before 3 p.m. The conclusion was that the late eaters had lost significantly less weight.
    So the study is not just about “lunch” the study is about the main meal of the day. In the United States “dinner” or “supper” is often the main meal of the day, often after 3 p.m.

    The other reference in the article showed calories consumed after 8 pm increased the risk of obesity.

    Our study showed the same.

    I’m sorry, but when you say “other studies” you must cite references.
    For example:
    Marci E. Gluck Ph.D.1,2,*, Allan Geliebter2,3, Tracy Satov1 Night Eating Syndrome Is Associated with Depression, Low Self-Esteem, Reduced Daytime Hunger, and Less Weight Loss in Obese Outpatients Obesity Research, 9, 264-267 – which appears to confirm the same information.

  4. Debra says:

    What is your point of view on the recent study from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem showing unexpected results that carbohydrates consumed late at night could be effective for weight loss? Do you think this is valid?

    Here is an excerpt from their press release including publication info for the actual study:

    ” . . . . Sofer randomly assigned 78 police officers to either the experimental diet (carbohydrates at dinner) or a control weight loss diet (carbohydrates throughout the day). 63 subjects finished the six-month program.

    The researchers examined the experimental diet’s effect on the secretion of three hormones: leptin, considered to be the satiety hormone, whose level in the blood is usually low during the day and high during the night; ghrelin, considered the hunger hormone, whose level in the blood is usually high during the day and low during the night; and adiponectin, considered the link between obesity, insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome, whose curve is low and flat in obese people.
    ”The idea came about from studies on Muslims during Ramadan, when they fast during the day and eat high-carbohydrate meals in the evening, that showed the secretion curve of leptin was changed,” explained Prof. Madar.
    The researchers found that the innovative dietary manipulation led to changes in daylight hormonal profiles in favor of the dieters: the satiety hormone leptin’s secretion curve became convex during daylight hours with a nadir in the late day; the hunger hormone ghrelin’s secretion curve became concave, peaking only in the evening hours; and the curve of adiponectin, considered the link between obesity, insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome, was elevated. At the same time this dietary pattern led to lower hunger scores, and better anthropometric (weight, abdominal circumference and body fat), biochemical (blood sugar, blood lipids) and inflammatory outcomes compared to the control group.

    . . . . The study was published in two continuous papers: ”Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner” (published in Obesity) and ”Changes in daily leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin profiles following a diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner in obese subjects” (published in Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases).

    Link: http://www.huji.ac.il/cgi-bin/dovrut/dovrut_search_eng.pl?mesge135262755005872560

  5. thedoc says:

    Short term studies are always flawed, unless they show a true change. The weight loss hormones are interesting, but we often don’t know what they mean, other than simple measurement of them. That being said- pass the pasta

  6. Ben says:

    In the second study the early-eaters lost more body weight, but in both pre and post conditions the late-eaters had a lower body fat percentage. The late-eaters also had a lower energy intake. These were non significant differences, but if you have no significant differences in the post body fat percentage then you seriously have to wonder about the quality of weight loss. It would be interesting to see what the actual weigh loss was in terms of fat/lean mass for each group. This study could actually be demonstrating significant lean mass loss associated with early eating! 🙂 We just can’t tell though because they didn’t measure it. Shame.

Leave a Reply