The best time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner if you want to lose weight

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  • Most weight loss advice focuses on what to eat to lose weight, so many of us are forgetting to look at other factors like the best time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner to get the most out of our diets. 

    How we choose the time to eat meals could have a huge impact on your weight loss if you’re taking one of the diets that work fast, according to research published in the Nutrients Journal of the MDPI.

    Researchers have pinpointed the best time to eat breakfast, to have lunch and eat dinner if you’re slimming. They found that the best time to have your breakfast is just after 7am, 7.11am to be precise. It’s better to get stuck into your lunch sooner rather than later between 12.30pm and 1pm. 12.38pm is the best time. And when it comes to dinner, the later you leave it the worse it can be for your diet. The optimum time for dinner is between 6pm and 6.30pm, 6.14pm preferably.

    What’s the harm of ignoring these guidelines governing the best time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, you might ask? A recent study in the European Heart Journal has shown that regularly sitting down to dinner after 8pm can add an extra two inches to your waist – that’s the equivalent of two dress sizes for a woman. 

    The researchers suggest that the difference could be because we have evolved to use up energy during the day. Our mechanisms slow down as we get ready for sleep, reducing the rate at which we process food.

    What about snacking?

    Experts have also managed to pinpoint ‘snack o’ clock’. This is the time to eat when dieters are mostly likely to meet their downfall. Some consuming up to 750 additional calories at these points. 11.01am, 3.14pm and 9.31pm are the times when your willpower is most likely to fail you, so find activities to occupy your mind during these periods, or plan healthy snacks to keep you full into your schedule so you’re not tempted by less nutritious options.

    Lee Smith, managing director of Forza Supplements, who conducted the research, said, “We are all becoming much more knowledgeable about nutrition and how to eat more healthily at traditional meal-times.

    “It is at other vulnerable moments during the day – these snack o’clocks – when all the damage is done in diets.”

    He also recommends avoiding coffee shops. These are “like sweet shops to a child, offering all sorts of seemingly innocuous pleasures like lattes which are the enemies of good diets.” Opt out of the work tea round to avoid calorific accompaniments too.

    Woman dipping breakfast croissant into coffee

    Credit: Getty

    What’s the most important rule when it comes to losing weight?

    Earlier research by Forza Supplements asked 1,000 dieters when what their best time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner was. A massive 76% said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day for weight loss. An even bigger 84% stated that sticking to set mealtimes is vital when it comes to losing weight.

    72% said not to exceed the calories they had at lunchtime or dinner. Two thirds of those surveyed recommended eating dinner before 7pm, saying that eating your evening meal earlier maximises weight loss. This is because people are less active in the evening.

    So while some people swear by more extreme diet plans, such as detoxing and intermittent fasting, research shows that maintaining a strong calorie limit is actually one of the best ways to ensure you’re losing weight sustainably and healthily.

    Skipping meals – what’s the harm?

    It’s also worth noting that six out of ten respondents in the Forza research said that weight loss would be even more difficult if meals were missed. An alarming number of people fall into the diet trap of thinking that more meals missed will mean more pounds lost, but this is a huge weight-loss myth.

    If your body isn’t getting food then it isn’t getting nourishment, so it stores fat as your metabolism slows down to reserve energy. You could initially lose weight, but you will just end up eating more later on and putting all the weight back on. Three meals a day with healthy snacks in-between is still the optimum way to lose the pounds and keep them off too.

    So what should a day’s diet look like?

    NHS recommends that for women wanting to lose weight, you should stick to an allowance of 1,400 calories a day. When considering the best time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, it’s important to start the day off with a good breakfast (just after 7am). Try hitting 400 calories if you can with some low calorie breakfast recipes, just like these ones…

    Bowl of breakfast blackcurrent bircher museli with strawberries, blueberries and blackberries next to a glass of orange juice on a black dotty tablecloth

     Blackcurrant bircher muesli: 395cals

    A farmhouse fry up in black cast iron plan

    Quick farmhouse fry-up: 221cals + 250ml glass of orange juice: 118cals = 339cals

    English muffins with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce with parsley

    Getty Images

    Slimming World’s muffins with smoked salmon: 295cals + Tall Starbucks cappuccino: 90cals = 385cals

    At lunchtime (between 12.30pm and 1pm) we’d recommend sticking to no more than 400 calories here too. You’ll need a boost halfway through the day and it’s important to give your body the nutrients and protein it needs. For this, opt for complex instead of refined carbohydrates such as those found in white pasta, rice and bread. You’ll stay fuller for longer and won’t experience an energy drop a couple of hours after lunch. Go for some of these low calorie lunch ideas for inspiration…

    Chicken pasta with peas in a white bowl

    Ainsley Harriott’s chicken pasta with peas: 426cals

    Vegetable lunch tortilla in the sunshine

    Spring vegetable tortilla: 390cals

    Quick Quorn lunch bowl with broad beans and chicken

    Quick Quorn lunch bowl: 161cals + 1 wholemeal roll: 155cals = 316cals

    Dinner (between 6pm and 6.30pm) can be fewer calories, so aim for around 300. You don’t want to feel too full before bed so fill up on protein and vegetables. For more inspiration, take a look at some of these healthy, low calorie dinner recipes.

    chicken and chickpeas in a grey bowl with bread

    Mellow-spiced chicken and chickpeas: 309cals

    red and yellow peppers stuffed with turkey stuffing and rice, in a white enamel bowl

    Peppers with spicy turkey stuffing: 302cals

      Split pea curry in green enamel bowl with spoon and bread on the outside

    Split pea and vegetable curry: 300cals

    Stick to 400 calories for breakfast, 400 for lunch and 300 for dinner. If you do this, you’ll be able to treat yourself to two 100 calorie snacks throughout the day. You also have an extra 100 for any milk in tea and coffee and any fruit throughout the day.

    You can pick two of any of these snacks under 100 calories, from jaffa cakes and a glass of wine, to yogurt and pretzels!

    What do the experts say about the best time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner?

    Forza Supplements’ Lee Smith said, “The results show that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day for successful dieters. Skipping it just makes you hungrier and more likely to over-indulge in later meals – causing a surge in blood sugar.”

    And it seems that eating at regular times doesn’t just have a positive effect on weight loss. Nutritional Therapist for Bio-Kult, Natalie Lamb, also suggests that eating at regular times of the day can also help with effective digestion and removal of waste, all important for the good health of your gut.

    She suggests that cutting down on our intake of sugary food can ward off unwanted bacteria and yeast. It’s ‘best to eat at regular times each day of the body naturally knows when to expect food and to produce the correct digestive enzymes.’