Do Mealtimes Matter?

Recent research supports an old idea: it matters what time you eat. The new field of Chrono-nutrition is finding confirmation for the idea that eating more in the early part of the day is better for weight maintenance and metabolism than eating later in the evening. 

Nutritionist Adelle Davis wrote in 1954, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” This advice has gone in and out of fashion since then — and it wasn’t new at the time. Breakfast began in Europe during the Renaissance and became more popular at the time of the industrial revolution when workers needed to fuel up for their day before leaving for work.

In the United States, changing breakfast fashions had a lot to do with marketing, as ad agencies pushed bacon or breakfast cereals, orange juice, or coffee. In the 1940s, an ad campaign announced that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, and you can still hear that claim today. 

Why avoid night eating?

People noticed that bedtime treats and midnight snacks led to weight gain, but why? Sometimes the prevailing theory was that weight gain or loss was just about the number of calories in and the number of calories out. Who that view was in favor, weight gain from late eating was blamed on behavioral differences. You ate and then went to bed rather than working off those calories, the thinking went. Or you were more likely to eat high-calorie foods in the evening if you skipped breakfast and spent much of the day hungry since your stock of willpower would be gone by nighttime. It was even suggested that foods people ate at night would include more caloric foods like pizza and ice cream, compared with morning foods (like doughnuts?).

Others thought that the metabolism slowed down in the evening and would hold onto fat. A study of mice compared two groups that ate the same number of calories at different times of the day. Late-eating mice gained weight, and early-eating mice did not.

It wasn’t possible to replicate the study precisely with human beings, but a variety of studies found similar results among people. Recent studies confirm that a large breakfast and a small dinner are the best combinations for weight maintenance or loss. The most recent report suggests that eating the largest meal of the day before 3:00 p.m. is key.

Easy fix?

Many people don’t wake up hungry. This is especially true for people who eat a large dinner and snack at night. Put some effort into going to bed hungry, and breakfast will be more appealing. 

Healthy Breakfast 101


10 Ways to Eat Vegetables for Breakfast