- What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:
- Is a Big Breakfast and Small Dinner the Secret to Weight Loss?
- ‘Big breakfast healthier than a big dinner’
- Maximizing calories at breakfast
- Stop snacking and eat a big breakfast if you want to lose weight
- Is a Big Breakfast, Small Dinner Best For Weight Loss?
- How Breakfast Can Double Your Weight Loss
- Why Big Breakfasts Are Key To Weight Loss
- Being a Big-Breakfast Eater
- Why healthy eating experts want Americans to reverse their meal sizes
- How eating from biggest meal to smallest meal worked for me
- What I learned post-experiment
- Eating at all waking hours
- The case for a 2pm dinner
- Should I eat just one meal a day?
What Dr. Melinda Ratini Says:
Does It Work?
Eating your biggest meal in the morning may curb your appetite throughout the day, helping you lose weight.
In her own research, Jakubowicz found that eating a big breakfast helped some overweight women with a condition known as metabolic syndrome lose weight and belly fat better than a conventional 1,400-calorie diet. It also helped prevent diabetes and heart disease.
More research is needed to see what long-term effects this diet may have and if it has any advantages for people who don’t have metabolic syndrome.
Is It Good for Certain Conditions?
Losing weight on any healthy diet can help prevent or treat diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease. But there are some pros for using this plan in particular.
Jakubowicz found that blood sugar and insulin levels were lower when breakfast was the largest meal of the day. If you have diabetes, check with your doctor before starting this or any diet. You may be on medications that peak at the times of the day when most people eat their largest meals. This may cause your blood sugar to dip dangerously low once you change your meal times around.
The author’s research also showed that eating smaller meals for lunch and dinner can help lower cholesterol.
If you’re on a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet, get your proteins from lean, low-fat, or vegetable sources. And if you’re on a low-salt diet, read labels to be sure you’re on target.
The Final Word
The Big Breakfast Diet provides the same calories as a conventional diet. The difference is all in the timing.
If flexibility is important you, this diet may be a good fit. There are very few restrictions, and you don’t have to buy special foods or supplements. The plan even allows you to fit fast food and other take-out into the plan once in a while.
If you’re not a morning person, getting up early enough to make and eat a big breakfast may be a challenge. If you eat out a lot, be ready to take home a lot of doggie bags, as restaurant portions are likely to be much larger than you will be allowed.
And while the plan does include exercise, it falls just short of the recommended 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week, so you may need to bump up your workout routine. Check with your doctor before doing that if you have any medical problems or have been inactive.
Is a Big Breakfast and Small Dinner the Secret to Weight Loss?
Are you familiar with the phrase “Eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper”? Well, according to a new study published in the journal Obesity, if you want to lose weight, that may be the way to go.
Ninety-three obese women with metabolic syndrome were provided with a 1,400-calorie diet for twelve weeks. The participants were divided into two groups; half ate 700 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 200 calories at dinner, while the other half ate the reverse: 200 calories at breakfast, 500 calories at lunch, and 700 calories at dinner. Both groups lost weight, however, the large breakfast eaters lost substantially more (18 pounds compared to 8 pounds) and lost more inches from their waists (3 inches versus 1.4).
But before you go making pancakes and eggs tomorrow morning, this strategy may not help you slim down. First, this study was only conducted for 12 weeks, and in the scheme of things that is not a whole lot of time. Also the researchers only looked at women with metabolic syndrome, not women who simply want to lose weight, and either way, most women eating 1,400 calories a day would see the number on the scale go down because that’s likely a lot less than what they are currently eating.
Lastly, like most studies, we need to remember that everything was controlled for here-and in the real world that just isn’t the case. Is it realistic to only eat 200 calories for dinner and still be social? I think not. Could you consume 700 calories for breakfast when you simply aren’t hungry in the morning? Again, I think not.
What I do think is that more women need to simply start eating healthy and being more physically active. If they have metabolic syndrome, they should especially make sure their meals are not high in simple carbohydrates and have adequate protein and healthy fats. No one should skip meals; more fruits, veggies and whole grains should be consumed; and 200 calories is way more like a snack than a meal. If you’re following a 1,400-calorie diet as these women did, I’d recommend 400-calorie meals and snacks of 200 calories. Perhaps we should all be eating simply as princesses.
- By Keri Gans
‘Big breakfast healthier than a big dinner’
Researchers have found that eating a big breakfast of 700 calories promotes weight loss and reduces risks for diabetes, heart disease and high cholesterol.
The study, recently published in Obesity comes from Tel Aviv University, where Prof. Daniela Jakubowicz and colleagues studied the impact of different caloric intake at varying times of day. What they found is that the time of day we eat has a significant impact on how our bodies process food.
To study how this timing affects our bodies, the team put 93 obese women into two different groups:
- “Big breakfast group” – consumed 700 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 200 at dinner
- “Big dinner group” – consumed 200 calories at breakfast, 500 at lunch and 700 at dinner.
The women’s diets consisted of moderate fats and carbohydrates, totaling 1,400 calories, and they followed the diets for 12 weeks. The 700-calorie meals, whether eaten for breakfast or dinner, contained the exact same foods, and included a dessert item such as a piece of chocolate cake or a cookie.
- The women in the big breakfast group lost, on average, 17.8 pounds and 3 inches from their waist.
- The women in the big dinner group, on the other hand, only lost 7.3 pounds and 1.4 inches from their waist.
Additionally, the women from the big breakfast group had larger decreases in insulin, glucose and triglyceride levels than the women from the big dinner group.
The researchers note that one of the most important findings is that the women from the big breakfast group did not experience high blood glucose level spikes that normally occur after a meal.
Although the big dinner group was eating a sensible diet and losing weight, the researchers actually found that their triglycerides – a type of fat found in the body – increased, putting them at a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
Maximizing calories at breakfast
The American Diabetes Association says (resource no longer available at www.diabetes.org) that even if you are not a fan of so-called traditional breakfast foods, you can switch up what you eat in the morning and opt for soup, a sandwich or even a slice of pizza.
The organization even recommends some creative ideas for maximizing the most important meal of the day:
- Breakfast Shake: 1 cup fat free milk or plain non fat yogurt, blended with 1/2 cup fruit, 1 tsp. wheat germ and add 1 tsp. nuts or nut butter, ice and whirl
- Berries and muffin: Split open a small bran muffin and place on a plate. Top with fresh berries and a dollop of fresh yogurt
- Bagel and chutney: Spread mango chutney on a small bagel, and pair it with a side of cottage cheese sprinkled with cinnamon
- Baked Potato and Cheese: A little unconventional for breakfast, but delicious. Top one half of a medium leftover baked potato (or microwave a raw one for 10-15 minutes) with low fat cheddar cheese and a spoonful of salsa. Return to the heat until the cheese melts
- Breakfast Sandwich: Top a whole wheat English muffin, whole wheat pita bread or even a whole wheat chapati (Indian bread found in specialty shops) with 1 ounce lean ham and a flavored mustard. Pair it with fresh fruit and a small wedge of low fat cheese.
Victoria Taylor from the British Heart Foundation notes that the study from the University of Tel Aviv stresses how important the timing of our meals is for our health. Though she does say that this is a small, short-term study and therefore further research is needed to check long-term results and effects for men, she suggests eating in the morning to promote weight loss.
“Wholegrain toast or breakfast cereals with low-fat milk will make that mid-morning snack less tempting. If you’re going for a cooked breakfast, try poached eggs instead of fried and make sure you grill any bacon or sausages.”
A 2012 study shows that eating egg proteins for breakfast may help you feel fuller for longer.
Stop snacking and eat a big breakfast if you want to lose weight
For years we have been told that weight control is about calories in vs. calories out, moving more and eating less and keeping on top of our metabolism by eating small frequent meals.
Now new research suggests that we have gotten it completely wrong with meal timing and less frequent eating linked to long term weight control.
The diets of more than 50,000 adults who were members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church living in California were analyzed by researchers looking for dietary patterns linked to weight control.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutrition found that the number of meals adults consumed, how long they went without food overnight, eating breakfast and the size and timing of their largest meal were all linked to lower BMIs (Body Mass Index.)
Specifically, those who consumed just one or two larger meals compared to those who ate three or more meals each day had lower BMIs over time.
Those who snacked more often were more likely to have an increase in BMI over time.
It also seems a long period of fasting overnight is an effective way to manage your weight. Individuals who had long periods overnight without food (i.e. more than 18 hours) had lower BMIs than those who only had 12-17 hours overnight without food.
As expected, breakfast eaters had a lower BMI than breakfast skippers but more specifically those who ate their largest meal at breakfast had significantly lower BMIs than those who ate their largest meal at dinner. This was lower than those who ate their largest meal at lunchtime but not as low as big breakfast eaters.
So what does this tell us about long term weight control? While BMI is a crude measure of weight control as it does not take into account muscle mass versus fat mass, these findings do suggest that meal timing is important.
Breakfast is key
Specifically eating breakfast is crucial and it seems the bigger the better. Forget a quick coffee on the run, a large meal with a significant number of calories appears to boost metabolic rate thanks to the thermogenic effect of food, or the increased number of calories it actually takes to digest a meal.
How often we’re eating
We then need to consider how often we are eating. Ideally, a break of several hours in between each meal is ideal to let our digestive hormonal return to normal levels.
Lunch too needs to be larger rather than a light meal to avoid the common scenario which sees us consume our largest meal at the end of the day.
The end of the day
Finally — but most importantly — we need to eat dinner earlier. The longer we give ourselves as an overnight fast, the better. For some of us this may mean a large-ish brunch and light dinner of soup, salad or fish, or for others a big breakfast, substantial hot meal at lunch and then a light snack at 5 or 6 pm.
It is about working out a regimen that works for you and your family.
Put most simply, this is strong evidence that we need to eat bigger earlier and far less frequently than we currently do.
Unfortunately, this is easier said than done in modern lives in which we stay up late, work long hours and love to eat.
This is what an ideal day’s eating would look like, according to this study
Breakfast at 8 a.m.
- 2-egg vegetable omelette plus two slices of wholegrain toast with avocado, vegetable juice and small coffee
Lunch at 1 p.m.
- 2 cups wholegrain pasta with small tin tuna and large salad
Dinner at 6 p.m.
- 1/2 cup white fish and bowl of vegetable soup
Is a Big Breakfast, Small Dinner Best For Weight Loss?
You’ve probably heard the saying “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper” or “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” But should your meals really get smaller as the day goes on? Here’s what the research and experts have to say:
A BIG BREAKFAST MAY NOT BE NECESSARY
Proponents of breakfasting like a king say the goal is to match energy intake with expenditure throughout the day, explains sports nutritionist Molly Kimball, RD, nutritionist at the Ochsner Fitness Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. It makes sense, then, to preload calories in the morning to fuel your body and brain for the day’s tasks (and workout) ahead.
“That thought is a bit outdated, and we can’t make the recommendation across the board to eat a bigger meal in the morning and gradually shrink the rest of your intake,” says Kimball, who points to the rise of intermittent fasting. Some people have found they can lose weight by cinching their eating window through intermittent fasting (IF). For instance, they might start eating at 12 p.m. for lunch and then close their eating window at 8 p.m. after dinner. This means they’re skipping breakfast entirely, something that throws the whole “breakfast like a king” idea out the window.
“Research shows that those doing IF see their body fat drop and lean mass increase without harming athletic performance,” says Kimball. (Though one review says it’s no better than other types of diets.) This may be because IF is improving insulin function. If you do IF, she recommends timing your fueling by opening up your eating window after exercise.
WHY A LARGE DINNER ISN’T THE WAY TO GO
Eating a large, fatty meal right before bed “is difficult for your body to digest properly when you’re horizontal,” says Kimball. It can cause acid reflux and, in turn, disturb your sleep. Make sure your last meal is 2–3 hours before bed, advises Kimball. If you need a snack to ward off hunger, stick with something small and easily digestible like half a sliced banana with a little yogurt. However, that’s more for the sake of your sleep — not necessarily weight loss.
FOR WEIGHT LOSS, THE RESEARCH IS MIXED
While some small preliminary research indicates eating more calories earlier in the day taps into our body’s natural circadian rhythms that follow metabolism and enhance weight loss better than bigger dinners, this is far from conclusive. In fact, in a review and meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2017, researchers concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to suggest eating less in the evening can help people lose weight, and more studies were needed.
Currently, a study, called the “Big Breakfast Study” is underway to explore this as a weight-loss strategy.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Ultimately, meal timing should be about what works best for you. While some people respond well to a breakfast-skipping, intermittent fasting-type of eating pattern, others find eating frequent, mini-meals throughout the day with adequate protein and low sugar keeps their insulin in check, says Kimball. Or, you may find you’re naturally hungry for a bigger breakfast and smaller dinner. All of those are sound approaches to fueling.
Kimball suggests keeping a log to see how your body responds after certain meals.“Make your eating patterns and timing your own self experiment,” says Kimball.
How Breakfast Can Double Your Weight Loss
Imagine two friends, Sandra and Rebecca, are both trying to lose some weight. They decide that they will use a strict diet to accomplish their goals and commit to counting calories religiously. Having read that eating too few calories is not good for weight-loss they determine that 1,400 calories would be a good daily target.
They agree that they aren’t going to change anything else that could impact their weight loss results – The 1,400 calorie per day diet will be their only course of action for 12 straight weeks. However, they don’t discuss how those 1,400 calories will be used each day.
Sandra sets out by eating a small breakfast of about 200 calories, a satisfying lunch of 500 calories, and a nice dinner consisting of about 700 calories. Meanwhile, Rebecca eats a large breakfast totaling 700 calories, a lunch similar to Sandra (500 calories), and a small dinner of just 200 calories.
After 12 weeks who lost more weight?
Okay, most of us are likely recalling that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” and concluded that Rebecca lost more weight as a results. And you’re right – she did! But that’s not the interesting part…
Did she lose a little bit more? Or was her big-breakfast plan the key to a significantly better weight-loss result?
Why Big Breakfasts Are Key To Weight Loss
This little story is based on some research published in the journal appropriately titled Obesity. Ninety-three women were separated into two groups: small breakfast eaters (SBE) and big breakfast eaters (BBE). After 12 weeks of dieting both groups lost a fair bit of weight but the BBE group lost much more. In fact, the average BBE lost almost 18lbs and 3 inches off their waistline! (Compare this with the more modest results of the SBE who lost about 7lbs and 1.5 inches)
That is a dramatic difference, especially considering that eating a bigger breakfast takes little effort, costs nothing more, and can be done by anyone!
The Science Behind The Results
The researchers found a few important variables that were impacted by the size of the breakfast meal. First, the BBE participants had much more consistent blood sugar throughout the rest of their day. The bigger morning meal acted as fuel for a long period of time and helped reduce “energy crashes” that could lead to snacking and unhealthy food choices.
Second, and perhaps even more importantly, the BBE group showed lower levels of insulin, glucose, and triglycerides when compared to the SBE group. These three markers are key indicators for heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, therefore a lower count is an extremely beneficial result. Eating a larger breakfast can help people lose weight and protect them from heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Finally, the BBE consumed the vast majority of their calories early in the day. This is important because the BBE ate at a time corresponding to their biggest calorie requirements. They ate when their bodies were about to use calories. Contrast this with the SBE who ate a larger meal in the evening, a time when fewer calories are needed as the body prepares for rest.
Being a Big-Breakfast Eater
So what does this research tell us? Should we all eat half of our daily calories in the morning. Simply put – yes.
The researches concluded that eating healthy foods at the wrong times can slow down weight loss and actually cause some health problems. The SBE group, despite losing weight, actually showed higher levels of triglycerides in their blood versus when they started their diet (remember that triglycerides are an indicator of heart disease and diabetes!)
Instead, it’s important to roughly plan your meals and stick to that plan. Eating “when we feel like it” will often lead us to consume calories late in the day when we watch TV, read a book, or sit in front of the computer. Having a structure in place that calls for the bulk of our eating to be done in the morning is a great way to shed some weight without having to put in too much effort.
Dr. Jakubowicz noticed while treating patients with certain metabolic conditions that when they ate certain types of foods at specific times of the day that “they lost weight more quickly and easily”.
This diet is essentially based on eating optimally in sync with the circadian and hormonal rhythms that the body goes through on a daily basis.
“Natural rhythms, called circadian rhythms influence metabolism, body weight, hunger and cravings. These rhythms dictate the body’s hormonal ‘environment’. Some hormones rule the body during the daylight hours, whereas others rule the night.” ~ The Big Breakfast Diet.
Dr. Jakubowicz explains the ‘day shift’ and ‘night shift’ hormones and their role in fat storage as well as fat burning and muscle growth and preservation.
For example, she shows you how to maximize Human Growth Hormone (HGH) which is a hormone that helps the body use fat reserves as fuel, thereby burning fat that leads to weight loss. This hormone peaks between midnight and 1 a.m. so she guides you, through the diet, to ensure that you are in an optimal state to allow the body to burn fat when HGH is at its highest levels.
According to the book, if you use the guidelines laid out for The Big Breakfast Diet,
“…you can expect to:
• Rev up your metabolism
• Burn more calories by day and more fat at night
• Enjoy your favourite foods as you lose weight
• Satisfy your hunger all day
• Eliminate cravings for sweets and starches
• Feel alert and refreshed when you awaken in the morning, rather than sluggish and foggy
• Enjoy energy to burn, and
• Reduce your risk for serious health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.”
In 2007 an eight-month study was conducted by Dr. Jakubowicz and her team on 94 women with metabolic syndrome.
The women were divided into two groups. One group followed the Big Breakfast plan (BB), eating a high protein, high-calorie breakfast, while the other followed a Low Carbohydrate plan (LCH).
“The Big Breakfast group consumed more calories each day than the Low Carb group, but their daily intake was front-loaded.”
In other words, the women in the BB group ate most of their allotted daily calories for breakfast.
Both groups lost a significant amount of weight in the first 16 weeks of the study but the BB group kept it off. Not only that, in the 16 weeks that followed, the BB group continued to lose weight but the LCH group regained it.
Most people tend to skip breakfast, grab lunch on the go and then come home to have the biggest meal of the day which is dinner.
According to Dr. Jakubowicz, this is not how it should be done based on the body’s natural rhythm.
- The breakfast that is recommended is high in protein, has a satisfying amount of carbohydrates and fats and even makes allowances for something sweet…cake for breakfast?
- Breakfast can be anywhere in the range of 610 to 850 calories (and more in some cases)!
- Lunch and dinner are then very low carbohydrate/lower calorie allowing for a certain amount of protein, low-glycemic fruits and vegetables.
- You are given guidance on portion sizes and servings of protein, fat and carbohydrates to keep hunger at bay and boost your metabolism throughout the day.
- There is also a vegetarian option of the plan.
One of the main benefits of the diet is that it keeps you feeling satisfied for hours, so much so, that you may not want to eat lunch at lunchtime, but the book advises that you still try to eat lunch and skip dinner if you are not hungry (good for intermittent fasting fans?)
Also, you can basically still eat your favourite foods, once you follow the meal formulas as laid out in the book. So, chocolate, pizza, burgers, Trini doubles, bread and pastries etc., can still be a part of your life.
There is a list of ‘free foods’ that you can have between meals, such as unsweetened tea or sparkling water.
She also provides her readers with a recipe for her ‘stew’ which is packed with vegetables and can be eaten should hunger pangs show up outside of meal times.
This book cites numerous studies on satiety, hunger, insulin resistance and circadian rhythm, to name a few, and gives a list of selected scientific references.
There are also testimonials in the book by some of Dr. Jakubowicz’s patients who have had success with her program.
As a bonus, you are given 30 recipes to include breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as vegetarian options, but once you are familiar with the lists and guidelines of the diet you are encouraged to create your own meals.
The “Staying Slim for Life” chapter of the book is where Dr. Jakubowicz outlines how to maintain the diet and how to get back on track after a night out, a wedding or a vacation where you may have strayed from the program.
This chapter offers advice on troubleshooting for ‘roadblocks’ you may encounter on your weight loss journey. There is even advice on how to deal with PMS cravings and ‘That Time of the Month.’
The doctor also encourages you to exercise or at least just move your body for 20 minutes a day. This in conjunction with the diet will help you to “burn calories, build muscle and improve your body’s sensitivity to insulin.”
I have found the information in this book to be quite enlightening, especially with respect to the information on changing levels of various hormones throughout the day and how this affects our metabolism. I like that it is backed by scientific studies.
My only disappointment was the mention of the use of artificial sweeteners as a sugar alternative.
Evidenced by the scientific studies, and looking at favourable Amazon reviews, it seems that some people are losing weight and keeping it off using the methods outlined by Dr. Jakubowicz in The Big Breakfast Diet.
My breakfast habits have been less than stellar. Many days, after walking my dog, I run out the door with just a coffee and banana in hand. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll manage to grab some almonds, too. But without fail, I’m hungry and exhausted come 10 AM—and lately, my hunger-quelling snack of choice has been a banana muffin from our work café.
Of course, I’d rather not load my body with refined carbs before the day is even half over—especially since it seems to awaken my inner sugar monster—so when I was listening to one of my go-to podcasts, I was intrigued to hear the host say that eating more food early in the morning could actually help you stay more alert, avoid overeating and snacking between meals, and even lose weight. In fact, her message wasn’t just to eat more in the morning, but to eat the most in the morning, then a bit less at lunch, and then finish the day with dinner being your smallest meal.
I was apprehensive, but I’m a sucker for diet-related self-experimentation, so I was game to flip my eating habits on their head for potential physical and mental gain. Here’s what happened when I did. (Looking for more simple, smart advice? Order Prevention—and get a FREE gift when you subscribe today.)
My breakfast size doubled—and I felt like garbage.
On day one of my experiment, I went big. I toasted up a grain-free English muffin (220 calories), slathered it with peanut butter (190 calories) and jam (50 calories), and then whipped myself up three jumbo scrambled eggs (270 calories) cooked in butter (50 calories) and topped with cheese (100 calories). All in all, it was about 660 calories—triple what I normally eat—and probably too much for someone whose only exercise is walking her dog 3 to 5 miles per day (certainly not bad, but I’m no athlete).
I felt like crap until about 1 PM. And while I didn’t snack between breakfast and lunch, I’m not sure the bloating and post-Thanksgiving levels of grogginess were a good trade-off. I definitely didn’t feel sharp like I’d hoped I would. I did eat slightly less for lunch, but I consumed my normal amount for dinner.
I learned that my definition of big was way too big.
I knew continuing this way wouldn’t yield good results—at least for me—so I decided to consult some experts. (Yes, I now realize I should have done this earlier!) When I did, it became clear that my definition of “big breakfast” was supersized. “Generally speaking, I’d recommend breakfast be in the 350 to 550 calorie range, depending on activity level, appetite, and age,” says registered dietitian nutritionist Katie Shields. “Someone who likes to have a mid-morning snack would aim for the lower end of the range.”
And when I asked her if there was any merit to making breakfast your biggest meal of the day: “The research doesn’t substantiate that eating more in the morning is better compared to eating more at night, and vice versa,” says Shields. “It’s important to listen to your body and find a way of eating that works best for your lifestyle.”
MORE: 7 Things That Happen When You Stop Eating Sugar
After downsizing a bit, I hit my stride.
The next few days, I was more strategic, and I tried to focus more on protein than calories at breakfast. According to registered dietitian Lily Nichols, everyone’s needs are a little different, but most women should aim for 15 to 25 g of protein in their morning meal—something like full-fat Greek yogurt with berries and nuts; or Nichol’s personal favorite, 2 eggs, 2 slices of bacon, sautéed kale, and a handful of berries.
So I followed her advice and made myself a veggie and egg scramble, along with a small handful of cashews. Protein clocked in at about 18 g, and, while I didn’t count, I estimate that calories were just under 400—still more than I had been eating, but much more manageable than day one’s breakfast. I was full, but not stuffed, and was free of uncomfortable hunger pains and energy dips throughout the morning.
MORE: Exactly What To Eat When You Have A Cold Or Flu
I started skipping lunch and focusing better.
Continuing with the strategy above, I found that I still wanted my mid-morning snack, even though I wasn’t terribly hungry. I know, snacking while staring at a computer goes against all those mindful eating tips I’ve doled out in the past, but I oddly enjoy my ritual of eating baby carrots and peanut butter while I answer e-mails. I imagine I could do far worse things. At least I’m mindful about my mindlessness, right?
Over the next few days, I realized that my bigger breakfast and filling mid-morning snack meant I didn’t want a normal lunch. So I skipped it. And instead, I started making a point to pack another snack containing some protein and healthy carbs (e.g. hardboiled egg and an a piece of fruit) to eat around 3 PM. This did wonders for my focus and alertness at times when I’d normally hit a lull. Then, around 7PM, I’d eat my normal dinner.
This “hourglass” approach to eating—as opposed to front-loading my calories like I’d originally intended, or eating three square meals a day—seemed to fit my body best.
MORE: 4 Foods That Burn Belly Fat
I realized there’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
My goal in writing this isn’t that you replicate my habits, but that you take the time to do a little experimentation of your own. While I realized that starting the day with a protein-rich, substantial-but-not-huge breakfast helped set a healthy tone for the rest of my day, you might discover something totally different. And the experts agree. “There’s research to show both eating breakfast or occasionally skipping it—such as an intermittent fasting approach can work well,” says Nichols.
Stephanie Eckelkamp Stephanie Eckelkamp is a freelance writer, health coach, and former associate editor for Prevention covering health, food, and nutrition.
Study Shows 600-Calorie Breakfasts Reduce Food Cravings Later in the Day
By Kathleen Doheny
WebMD Health News
Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD
June 17, 2008 — Eating a 600-calorie breakfast rich in carbohydrates and protein helps dieters lose more weight long term than eating a modest breakfast and following a lower-carb eating plan, according to a new study.
Breakfast and weight loss have long been linked, but the new research zeroes in on how to help dieters stick with a plan and not regain the lost weight by adjusting the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and calories eaten early in the day.
“Those on the ‘big breakfast diet’ feel less hungry before lunch and all day,” says Daniela Jakubowicz, MD, an endocrinologist in Caracas, Venezuela, and a clinical professor at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, who led the study. She is presenting her findings this week at ENDO 08, the 90th annual meeting of The Endocrine Society in San Francisco.
Breakfast and Weight Loss
With colleagues from Virginia Commonwealth University, Jakubowicz assigned 94 obese, physically inactive women, on average in their 30s, to two groups:
- The low-carb diet group of 46 women was instructed to eat a small breakfast totaling about 290 calories that was low in carbohydrates and typically didn’t include bread. A sample breakfast might have included a cup of milk, one egg, three slices of bacon, and two teaspoons of butter. When they visited the study center, these women ate breakfast there and their food was monitored. They ate an average of 1,085 calories a day.
- The big-breakfast group of 48 women was told to eat a breakfast of about 610 calories. A sample breakfast: a cup of milk, turkey, cheese, two slices of bread, mayonnaise, 1 ounce of chocolate candy, and a protein shake. They could eat the breakfast in stages from the time they got up until 9 a.m. This group averaged 1,240 calories a day.
Both groups stayed on the diet for four months to lose weight, and then shifted to maintenance mode for the last four months.
At the four-month mark, the dieters eating the modest breakfast dropped about 28 pounds, while those on the big breakfast plan lost 23 pounds.
The real differences showed up at the eight-month mark, when the low-carb dieters had regained an average of 18 pounds and the big-breakfast eaters continued to lose, dropping another 16.5 pounds on average.
In all, members of the big-breakfast group lost more than 21% of their body weight; low-carb group members lost 4.5%.
A bonus, says Jakubowicz, is that the big-breakfast dieters reported less hunger and fewer cravings for carbohydrates than the other group.
Big Breakfast Diet
Some of the study findings make perfect sense and are well known to nutrition experts, says Joan Salge Blake, RD, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a professor of nutrition at Boston University, who reviewed the study for WebMD.
“We know women who don’t eat breakfast are more likely to do impulsive, unplanned snacking,” she says. “It’s no big surprise that having breakfast and having protein is a good thing when it comes to weight loss.”
“We know protein will have the biggest effect on the feeling of fullness,” she says. “It’s always important to have protein at each meal.”
But she has some misgivings about both diets, contending that the daily calorie allotment and the carbohydrate intake was too low in both groups. “One hundred thirty grams of carbohydrate are the minimum for our brain to keep working,” she says, citing guidelines from the National Academy of Sciences.
To achieve weight loss, she advises eating breakfast every day, including protein at each meal, and also focusing on eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
While the participants in the study were all obese, Jakubowicz says she thinks the plan will work for those with less weight to lose, too.
“I think this is the right way of eating, even if you are thin. I think it works for everybody and especially for obesity.”
SOURCES: Daniela Jakubowicz, MD, endocrinologist, Hospital de Clinicas Caracas, Venezuela; clinical professor, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond. Joan Salge Blake, RD, spokeswoman, American Dietetic Association; professor of nutrition, Boston University. ENDO 08, 90th annual meeting of The Endocrine Society, San Francisco, June 15-18, 2008.
“Eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner.” The royal refrain has long been preached by healthy eating experts as one of the best ways to eat for maintaining a healthy metabolism, digestion, and overall health. The advice came up yet again in a recent Ask Me Anything in Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group with Food: What The Heck Should I Cook? author Mark Hyman, MD. The resounding message: big breakfast, good. Big dinner, not so good.
Normally I’m all about taking healthy eating advice from experts—but I have to admit, this didn’t seem like the most realistic thing to me. Our culture is not structured to accommodate this kind of eating schedule. Mornings are rushed—many people don’t even eat breakfast at all—and dinner is about socializing just as much as it is about eating. Even if it is more nutritious, it doesn’t seem very doable. But for the sake of better health, I decided to try reversing my meal sizes for a week and see what it was like.
Why healthy eating experts want Americans to reverse their meal sizes
Before getting started, I reached out to Dr. Hyman as well as registered dietitian Kristin Kirkpatrick, RDN for more intel on the merits of eating your largest meal at the beginning of the day (and your smallest meal at the end of the day). “The more in alignment we eat with our circadian rhythms, the better,” Dr. Hyman says, referring to the body’s internal clock that impacts bodily functions and behavior. If scientific studies are any indiction, blood sugar control is best in the mornings when we first wake up and worse at night; the body also burns calories more efficiently earlier in the day. Thus, experts like Dr. Hyman argue that it’s better to consume the bulk of your daily food intake earlier in the day (like at a big breakfast), when your body can better metabolize it.
“That first meal you eat of the day is absolutely the most important meal of the day, and most research shows that consuming a bulk of your calories earlier in the day rather than later can be beneficial for your overall health,” Dr. Hyman says. Plus, Kirkpatrick says that a big breakfast can keep you fuller for longer, which can help curb excessive snacking or food intake later in the day.
As for dinner, one study found that keeping the meal on the small side and earlier in the evening was linked to boosting metabolism and also a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease. Dr. Hyman also points out that it takes work for the body to digest food, so if you eat a heavy dinner, your digestive tract will have to work overtime when it should be using night hours to rest. (Yes, even your gut needs its beauty sleep.)
“Unfortunately, what most people do is skip breakfast, then maybe have a sandwich for lunch, and then they have a huge dinner when their body is least capable of handling it. This can lead to imbalanced blood sugar, poor sleep, weight gain, and more,” says Dr. Hyman.
This all made sense, but I was still a bit unsure of how to pull this off IRL. Luckily, Kirkpatrick had some smart tips. “If , I would advise about 25 grams of protein, moderate fiber from low-glycemic load fruits such as berries or from sprouted grain toast, and healthy fats like avocado or nut butters,” she says. She says you can accomplish this with avocado toast with a veggie-egg scramble on the side, or with oatmeal topped with nut butter and fruit.
For lunch—the second biggest meal of the day—Kirkpatrick suggests salad with lean protein mixed in, or a soup full of hearty protein, like lentils. (Not much different than what I already have mid-day.) And for dinner, she suggests a protein shake or a serving of spaghetti squash with tomato sauce, both much smaller than the usual after-work feasts I typically cook myself. Dr. Hyman’s dinner ideas include a palm-sized cooked protein of choice with veggies on the side.
Check out the video below for tips on how to eat to feel energized, not sluggish:
How eating from biggest meal to smallest meal worked for me
Normally for breakfast, I typically just have an oat milk latte. So on day one of my experiment, I paired my latte with a plate of scrambled eggs, avocado, and spinach—which I got up 15 minutes earlier than usual to make so I could still eat at my usual breakfast time at 8:30 a.m.
Normally I’m ravenous by noon (oat milk lattes, as you can imagine, aren’t super filling), so I usually have a big salad with chicken or tofu as well as some sort of snack afterwards, like trail mix. But because I ate such a big breakfast, I was still full even at 2 p.m. I reached into my snack stash for a Hilo Life low-carb snack mix which I ate, but honestly wasn’t hungry enough for a bigger meal.
By the time dinner rolled around, I was hungry, but not excessively so. I heated up some leftover sweet potato nachos, which were made with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, and cheese. The serving was smaller than what I’d normally have for dinner, but left me comfortably full. Still, I felt the urge to keep eating—not because I was hungry, but because, I realized, eating in the evening has become my go-to way to unwind and destress. I ended up making a bowl of popcorn to munch on.
The next day for breakfast, I made oatmeal topped with nut butter and berries per Kirkpatrick’s suggestion. It really was filling and when lunchtime rolled around, my stomach wasn’t rumbling yet. Still, I wanted to do better than yesterday, so I blended a Daily Harvest smoothie and ate another Hilo Life snack pack on the side. Around 7 p.m. I was only moderately hungry, so I had bone broth with a side of Dr. Praeger’s kale bites. I was honestly surprised that this small, simple meal filled me up. This time, I stopped myself from snacking out of boredom and instead brewed myself a cup of tea and focused on finishing my book club book. So far, the biggest lesson I was learning was how to actually listen to my body—instead of just mindlessly snacking to unwind—and what is really feels like to be full.
The third day started out well-intentioned, but then went a little off-script for dinner. Despite having a big breakfast and medium-sized lunch, I was really craving a big bowl of pasta—which I honored with a bit of spinach mixed in for extra veggies. The dinner was definitely on the bigger side, but when else would I be able to eat a big bowl of pasta? Dinner is the only time!, I thought to myself.
Another hurdle came on Friday. I woke up knowing I had a glorious night in to enjoy to myself. I typically like to spend these nights either ordering takeout or making myself a big dinner and eating it while watching a movie on the couch. But how would those plans be impacted by this experiment? In cases like these, where life plans or social obligations come up that could make it tricky to stick to this eating schedule, Kirkpatrick had suggested in our interview that I go back to my “normal” way of eating. Since I *knew* this was how I wanted to spend my night, I put her advice into practice. That way, I could enjoy my Friday night dinner as planned.
The weekend was when the experiment was really its easiest. Who doesn’t love starting Saturday off with a big, yummy brunch?
What I learned post-experiment
My week of having my biggest meal for breakfast and smallest meal for dinner taught me two big lessons. One, it’s actually easier than I thought it would be to live this way. Yes, sometimes going big at breakfast means getting up a little earlier, but it otherwise wasn’t as much of a hurdle as I thought it would be. And as long as dinners out with friends are planned out at least 24 hours in advance, I could plan for them. However, I live alone and have total control over what I eat and when I eat it. I could definitely see people who are parents or have to feed more people than just themselves finding this a bit more difficult.
The second major lesson I learned was that for me, eating a lot at night was more linked to comfort than hunger. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with stress or emotional eating, it can be a crutch if over-relied upon. Now, when I reach for a post-dinner snack, I think about why I’m doing it, something I didn’t stop to do before. I didn’t notice any other ways changing my eating habits affected me; it didn’t seem to affect my energy levels or sleep habits at all.
It’s been a few weeks since my experiment and while I did find it beneficial, I have to admit that for the most part, I’ve defaulted back to eating from small to large. Mostly it’s simply because old habits die hard and this is the way I’ve been living for the majority of my life.
But something that I have kept up is putting an end to overeating at dinner—and snacking afterwards. The realization that it doesn’t require that big of a dinner to feel satisfied has stayed with me. Now, I check in with my body more. Sometimes, that means I go back for an extra helping because I really am hungry. Other times, I realize I’ve had enough. To me, the lesson of listening to my body has been the biggest takeaway of all. And it’s something I’ll continue to practice regardless of how big of a meal I’m prepping for myself.
Here’s what 14 different wellness experts eat for breakfast. Plus, 10 healthy breakfast ideas that aren’t oatmeal.
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Meals are good, and snacking is bad. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and if you eat dinner with your family, you will keep your girlish figure and your kids will be healthier. Taking a lunch break will make you succeed at your job.
Okay, now forget all that. Because as it turns out, the concept of three square meals a day has practically zero to do with your actual metabolic needs. And our dogmatic adherence to breakfast, lunch, and dinner might actually be making us sick.
So fascinated were Europeans with tribes’ eating patterns that they actually watched Native Americans eat “as a form of entertainment.”
Historian Abigail Carroll, author of the book Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal, explained to me that the the thrice-daily eating schedule goes back at least as far as the Middle Ages in Europe. When European settlers got to America, they also imported their meal habits: a light meal—maybe cold mush and radishes—in the morning, a heavier, cooked one midday, and a third meal similar to the first one later in the day. They observed that the eating schedule of the native tribes was less rigid—the volume and timing of their eating varied with the seasons. Sometimes, when food was scarce, they fasted. The Europeans took this as “evidence that natives were uncivilized,” Carroll explained to me in an email. “Civilized people ate properly and boundaried their eating, thus differentiating themselves from the animal kingdom, where grazing is the norm.” (So fascinated were Europeans with tribes’ eating patterns, notes Carroll, that they actually watched Native Americans eat “as a form of entertainment.”)
The three daily meals that the settlers brought evolved with Americans’ lifestyles. As people became more prosperous, they added meat to breakfast and dinner. After the Industrial Revolution, when people began to work away from home, the midday meal became a more casual affair, and the cooked meal shifted to the end of the day, when workers came home. The one thing that did not change was the overall amount of food that people ate—despite the fact that they had largely abandoned the active lifestyles of the farm in favor of sedentary ones in cities and suburbs. “People were still eating these giant country breakfasts,” says Carroll. Soon, doctors reported that more of their patients were suffering from indigestion.
In an effort to rein in caloric intake, nutritionists began advising people to eat a lighter breakfast—and marketers pounced on the opportunity. In 1897, brothers Will Keith Kellogg and John Harvey Kellogg introduced corn flakes as healthy alternative to heavy breakfasts. (The pair had an ulterior motive: They wanted to spread the gospel of the vegetarian diet because it was part of their Seventh Day Adventist faith.)
Corn flakes took off, and in the years that followed, breakfast became known as a meal for health food. Fruit-grower associations seized the opportunity to market juices, which, the ad campaigns announced, were chock full of a newly discovered thing called vitamins. The makers of breakfast foods warned of the dangers of skipping “the most important meal of the day.”
Science shows that when it comes to maintaining your metabolism, it doesn’t make a whit of difference whether you eat breakfast or not.
That line of reasoning persists today—check out Kellogg’s modern-day treatise on the health benefits of breakfast. But there’s just one problem: Science shows that when it comes to maintaining your metabolism—the bodily system that helps us turn food into energy and, when out of whack, can lead to diabetes and other disorders—it doesn’t make a whit of difference whether you eat breakfast or not. A 2014 study by the University of Bath showed that breakfast had practically zero effect on its subjects’ metabolism. (Breakfast eaters did burn more calories than breakfast skippers, but net calorie consumption was the same, since the breakfast eaters burned off the extra calories they ate at breakfast.) A similar University of Alabama study of people who were trying to diet found that breakfast made no difference, either way, on weight loss.
And breakfast isn’t the only metabolically unimportant meal. In fact, it doesn’t seem to matter much at all how and when you get your calories. In a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, one group ate three meals a day while another ate six. (Total daily calorie counts were identical.) Researchers found no weight or hormonal differences between the groups. In 2014, University of Warwick researchers found no difference in metabolism between a group of women that ate two meals a day and another group that ate five.
The one thing that might actually improve your metabolism is periodic fasting—that’s right, the very same eating pattern that the early European settlers deemed uncivilized. Mark Mattson, a neuroscientist at the National Institute on Aging, has observed in a series of mice experiments over the past two decades that mice who skip feedings are leaner and live longer than their nonskipping counterparts. The fasting mice also have more robust brain cells than those who consume regular meals. Mattson, who skips breakfast and lunch most days, theorizes that caloric deprivation acts as a mild stress that helps cells build up their defenses—warding off damage from aging, environmental toxins, and other threats. Other research has shown that periodic fasting may also prevent heart disease.
Biologist Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, meanwhile, observed in a 2012 study that mice consuming all of their calories within an eight-hour window were less likely to develop metabolic diseases like diabetes than those who ate whenever they pleased. A follow-up study last year confirmed the results—though no one has conducted similar studies in humans.
So should you quit meals and fast intermittently instead? You could try it. Christopher Ochner, a weight loss and nutrition expert at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York, notes that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution: Some people do well eating all their calories at once; others prefer to split them into snack-size portions.
Instead of obsessing about meal size and frequency, Ochner recommends something simpler: Don’t eat when it’s time for a meal; eat when you feel hungry. That, he says, is a lost art: In industrialized societies, where food is abundant, we eat because of social cues “or just because something smells good.” If we can teach ourselves to pay attention to our own bodies instead of our environment, he says, “that might be the best diet of all.”
There have been two main changes in dietary habits from the 1970s (before the obesity epidemic) until today. First, there was the change is what we were recommended to eat. Prior to 1970, there was no official government sanctioned dietary advice. You ate what your mother told you to eat. With the publication of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we were told to cut the fat in our diets way down and replace that with carbohydrates, which might have been OK if it was all broccoli and kale, but might not be OK if it was all white bread and sugar.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
But the other major change was in when we eat. There were no official recommendations on this, but nevertheless, eating patterns changed significantly, and I believe contributed equally to the obesity crisis. From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey study in 1977, the most people ate was three times per day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I grew up in the 1970s. There were no snacks. If you wanted an after-school snack, your mom said, “No, you’ll ruin your dinner.” If you wanted an bedtime snack, she just said “No.” Snacking was not considered either necessary or healthy. It was a treat, to be taken only very occasionally.
By 2004, the world had changed. Most people were now eating almost six times per day. It is almost considered child abuse to deprive your child of a mid-morning snack or after-school snack. If they play soccer, it somehow became necessary to give them juice and cookies between the halves. We run around chasing our kids to eat cookies and drink juice, and then wonder why we have a childhood obesity crisis. Good job, everybody, good job.
Without any science to back it up, many nutritional authorities endorsed eating multiple times per day as a healthy practice. There were no studies that remotely suggested this was true. It was likely the successful efforts of snack-food companies advertising to dietitians, and doctors, clueless about nutrition at the best of times, who simply went along for the ride.
Asia Pacific Journal of Clinical Nutrition
This was not merely an American phenomenon. More recently, China has followed in America’s footsteps with increased snacking. Large-scale surveys show that from 1991 to 2009, the percentage of children and adults who regularly snack has skyrocketed. Among children aged 13 to 18, those who snacked went from 8.7% to 46.3% — a more than fivefold increase. Adults showed the a similar rise from 8.7% to 35.6%.
So what, right? Who cares?
This shift has given rise to China’s obesity crisis. Along with this is a huge increase in the prevalence of diabetes in China.
Eating at all waking hours
Recently Satchin Panda, a professor at Salk Institute and author of the book The Circadian Code, did an interesting study on current eating habits, tracked via a smartphone app. The 10% of people who ate the least frequently ate 3.3 times per day. That is, 90% of people ate more than 3.3 times per day. The top 10% of people ate an astounding 10 times per day. Essentially, we started eating as soon as we got up, and didn’t stop until we went to bed.
The median daily intake duration (the amount of time people spent eating) was 14.75 hours per day. That is, if you started eating breakfast at 8am, you didn’t, on average, stop eating until 10:45pm. Practically the only time people stopped eating was while sleeping. This contrasts with a 1970s-era style of eating breakfast at 8am and dinner at 6pm, giving a rough eating duration of only 10 hours. The “feedogram” shows no let up in eating until after 11pm. There was also a noticeable bias toward late-night eating, as many people are not hungry in the morning. An estimated 25% of calories are taken before noon, but 35% after 6pm.
When those overweight individuals eating more than 14 hours per day were simply instructed to curtail their eating times to only 10 to 11 hours, they lost weight (average 7.2 lbs, or 3.3 kg) and felt better even though they were not instructed to overtly change when they ate.
This has huge metabolic consequences. A fascinating study was recently published directly comparing a regular eating schedule to an optimized time-restricted feeding schedule. Both intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating tend to produce some reduction in food intake, and therefore it is never clear whether the benefits of these strategies are due to timing (when to eat) or food intake (what to eat).
Cell Metabolism Cell Metabolism
The circadian rhythm, as I’ve discussed previously, suggests that late-night eating is not optimal for weight loss. This is because excessive insulin is the main driver of obesity, and eating the same food early in the day or late at night have different insulin effects. Indeed, studies of time-restricted eating mostly show benefits from reducing late night eating. So it makes sense to combine two strategies of meal timing (circadian considerations and time-restricted eating) into one optimal strategy of eating only over a certain period of the day, and only during the early daytime period. Researchers called this the eTRF (early Time Restricted Feeding) strategy.
This was a randomized crossover, isocaloric and eucaloric study. That is, all patients did both arms of the study eating the same foods and the same calories and then compared against themselves. The two arms of the study were eating between 8am and 8pm, and the eTRF strategy of eating between 8am and 2pm, but remember, both groups ate three meals per day of the same foods. Some would start with the conventional diet, then cross over to eTRF, and others did the opposite, separated by a seven-week washout period. Subjects were men with prediabetes.
The benefits were huge. Mean insulin levels dropped significantly, and insulin resistance dropped as well. Insulin is a driver of obesity, so merely changing the meal timing and restricting the number of hours you ate, and also by moving to an earlier eating schedule, produced huge benefits even in the same person eating the same meals. That’s astounding. Even more remarkable was that even after the washout period of seven weeks, the eTRF group maintained lower insulin levels at baseline. The benefits were maintained even after stopping the time restriction. Blood pressure dropped as well.
But won’t the time restricted feeding group be more hungry? Sure they might be skinnier, but their poor stomachs are growling for food in the evening, right? No pain, no gain. Incredibly, it was the opposite. Those who restricted late-night eating had less desire to eat, but also less capacity to eat. They couldn’t eat more at night even if they wanted to. That’s amazing, because now we are working with our body to lose weight instead of constantly fighting it. It is obviously easier to restrict eating in the evening if you are not hungry.
The case for a 2pm dinner
Somewhat counterintuitively, restricting eating at 2pm produced more feelings of fullness in the evening. Some other important lessons learned is that there is an adaptation period to this method of eating. It took participants 12 days on average to adjust to this way of eating. So don’t start this eTRF strategy and decide it didn’t work for you after a couple of days. It can take up to three or four weeks to adjust. Most found the fasting period relatively easy to adhere to, but more difficult to adjust to the time restriction.
That is, it’s not hard to fast for 16 or 18 hours. But eating dinner at 2pm is tough. Given the modern schedule of working or school during the day, we tend to push our main meal into the evenings. The main family meal together is dinner, and this is ingrained into us. So, I’m not saying this is an easy task, but it may certainly have a number of metabolic benefits. Having a fasting-support group can certainly help. Fasting aids, such as green tea, coffee, or bone broth can also help (although some would not consider that a true fast).
But the bottom line is this. We focus nearly obsessively on the question of what to eat. Should I eat avocados or steak? Should I eat quinoa or pasta? Should I eat more fat? Should I eat less fat? Should I eat less protein? Should I eat more protein? Let’s face it, the answer changes every few years, according to whom you ask.
But an equally important question lies almost completely unanswered. What effect does meal timing have on obesity and other metabolic parameters? Quite a lot, it turns out. Having a well defined fasting period is likely very important. The strategy of eTRF, and intermittent fasting more generally now gives exhausted dieters a new hope.
This post originally appeared on Medium. Jason Fung is the medical director and cofounder of the Intensive Dietary Management Coaching Program, which is a for-profit company that promotes and sells fasting-based programs for weight loss and diabetes reversal.
Should I eat just one meal a day?
There has been little research into the effects of fasting for 23 hours per day. As an extreme diet plan, however, there may be risks.
For example, on a daily basis, a person may:
- feel very hungry
- experience fatigue, due to an uneven supply of energy
- feel shaky, weak, and irritable as their blood sugar levels fall
- have difficulty concentrating
For some people, eating only one meal per day may increase the risk of binge eating during the single mealtime. In some cases, following a restrictive diet can even increase the risk of developing a long-term eating disorder, according to some research.
Other problems that may arise include the following:
- The person may find it hard to eat at the single mealtime because they feel full quickly.
- Over time, their desire to eat may increase during the fasting period, rather than decrease, compared with other forms of fasting.
- Body fat may increase, rather than decrease.
- Nutrient deficiencies may occur if a person follows this diet plan long-term.
- The body may start to lose muscle mass as a person enter a state of semi-starvation.
How many calories per day does a person need? Find out here.
Effect on diabetes and cholesterol levels
People with underlying medical conditions may face additional risks. For example, those with type 1 diabetes or low blood sugar need to eat meals regularly throughout each day to maintain a steady blood sugar level.
A 2007 study compared the effect of eating the same number of calories in one or three meals per day for 6 months in a group of healthy adults.
None of the participants experienced a significant weight change, but those who ate only one meal per day experienced a reduction in body fat.
However, their levels of both low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol increased, and there was a negative effect on their morning glucose tolerance levels.
Metabolism and body clock genes
A 2012 mouse study suggested that eating only one meal per day may have worsen health, compared with eating two meals. In mice that consumed just one meal per day, there was an increase in body weight, insulin, and fat in the blood. There was also a higher risk of oxidative damage in fatty tissue and the liver.
The researchers concluded that eating one meal per day could negatively impact the genes that help regulate the body clock, sleep-wake cycles, and metabolism.
In another study, this time from 2017, 100 people consumed 25% of their energy needs in food on one day and 125% on the next, alternating days for a year. However, they did not restrict their intake to one meal per day.
Those who practiced this form of intermittent fasting experienced an increase in LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. High levels of LDL cholesterol may increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.
Also, those who fasted in this way did not lose any more weight than those who reduced the number of calories they ate each day.