All Day Breakfast

Does Meal Timing Really Matter for Health and Weight?

It’s becoming a popular story. Maybe you shouldn’t worry so much about what you eat. Instead you should focus on when you eat. Meal timing is a hot concept among health writers right now. Professor Satchin is selling a new book, The Circadian Code, with a promise to “transform your health.” The New York Times ran a splashy story on the subject this week.

How far can the science take you with this trend before the hype takes over?

A Bit of Science

Circadian rhythms are actually quite important for the normal function of a healthy body. When your work or travel disrupts those rhythms, your health suffers a bit. Shift work, for example, can raise your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and a range of other health problems.

And meal timing can be a factor for healthy nutrition and metabolism. True enough, the cliché about breakfast being the most important meal of the day is a little overblown. But the metabolic response to eating larger meals late in the day does indeed seem to be less healthy, compared to meals earlier in the day.

Mixed with a Bunch of Hype

With a bit of science in the bag, a bestselling diet book almost writes itself. If you don’t think The Circadian Code will solve all your problems, then maybe you’d prefer the 16:8 intermittent fasting concept. “Watch the pounds disappear without watching what you eat!” – or at least that’s the promise.

But unfortunately, when you mix a bit of science with a bunch of hype, reality fades away. Nutrition professor Kelly Pritchett offers a more sensible view:

I would not recommend this approach to my clients as I don’t think it’s sustainable for the long term. You have to ask yourself: Do I want to follow this plan for the rest of my life? If the answer is no, then it’s not a sustainable approach to weight loss or healthy eating.

In the end, it’s worth knowing that big meals late in the day are not a healthy pattern to fall into. And if you want help to find a healthier pattern of eating for the rest of your life, seek the advice of good registered dietitian.

Click here for more from the New York Times and here for a study of the metabolic effects of meal timing. For a detailed scientific statement from the American Heart Association, click here.

All Day Breakfast, photograph © Steel Wool / flickr

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July 28, 2018

4 Responses to “Does Meal Timing Really Matter for Health and Weight?”

  1. July 28, 2018 at 10:48 am, Miriam B said:

    “When your work or travel disrupts those rhythms, your health suffers a bit.” Are you understating the health risks? Perhaps a post on the relative risk to people employed in long term shift work, usually resulting in chronic sleep deprivation.
    And why does Dr Pritchett get to decide what her clients will or will not find sustainable?? She may perceive it as deprivation and unsustainable while her clients may not. There are many dietary approaches (standard American, whole foods, vegetarian, vegan, LCHF, ketogenic, time-restricted fasting). Let’s not decide what will or will not work for others.

    • July 28, 2018 at 11:27 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for reading and sharing your views, Miriam.

  2. July 28, 2018 at 12:02 pm, Mary-Jo Overwater said:

    While I tend to agree that eating big amounts of food after 8 pm can affect how food is digested, absorbed, and metabolized, it has to be said that meal size and portion sizes are factors that need to be considered when we talk meal timing. In my experience, there are many cultures — Spain, Portugal, France, southern Italy that enjoy ‘dinner’ from 9:30 onward and have no untoward issues. But, I have noticed, portion sizes are quite small and foods are fresh, light, and overall, wholesome. The foods tend to be complex carbohydrates, lean protein like grilled fish, and monounsaturated fats. Even in countries that partake of high-fat cheeses and charcuterie late evening, which are high fat, I’ve notice portion sizes are small. This makes the difference. The French Paradox is not so paradoxical, after all.

    • July 28, 2018 at 1:21 pm, Ted said:

      Good perspective, Mary-Jo. Thanks!