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Why Skimping on Calories Earlier in the Day is not Working for you... And the Research to Prove it!

breakfast is the most important meal of the day

Hi Friend,

In my last blog I discussed a very common eating pattern I see exhibited in my patients that can lead to evening binges and resultant feelings of frustration and discouragement. For more details about this eating pattern, read the blog here.

I find that learning the “why” behind a desired action can lead to more successful implementation.  I would like to share some studies that might provide you with this "why" today.

Get ready, it’s going to get a little sciency here.

Before I begin, please remember, weight is one indicator of your overall health status, and it is not the gold standard in assessing your overall wellbeing. There are many other factors that determine whether you are, in fact, a healthy individual.

The first study in review looked at a relatively small sample of 32 women, which is not ideal. However, this was a randomized controlled trial, which is desirable. The participants were fed lunch (main meal of the day) at 1:30pm and 4:30pm. Researchers found that eating the main meal later in the day is associated with decreased resting-energy expenditure and decreased glucose-tolerance, in other words, increased risk of metabolic disturbances.

The second study is another randomized controlled trial with a better sample size of 193 participants. One group was fed a high carbohydrate, high protein breakfast. This group's breakfast also included a dessert item on a daily basis. (If that doesn't break some diet rules I don't know what does!) The second group was fed an isocaloric (same amount of calories) but low carbohydrate and lower protein breakfast. Both groups lost a similar amount of weight at 16 weeks, HOWEVER between weeks 16-32, noteworthy differences were identified. The high carb/dessert breakfast group lost additional weight, while the low-carb breakfast group regained 23% of the weight back. Ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels were also reduced by an additional ~16% in the high carb/dessert breakfast group when compared to the low carb breakfast group. Satiety, hunger, and cravings scores were also significantly improved in the high carb/dessert group. The researchers concluded that a high carbohydrate, high protein breakfast, even if it has dessert in it, may prevent weight regain by reducing diet-induced compensatory changes in hunger and cravings, as well as suppressing ghrelin levels.

Are you ready for one last study? A high quality, randomized controlled trial with a sample size of 93 individuals fed one group a high calorie breakfast and low calorie dinner, and the second group a low calorie breakfast and a high calorie dinner for an equal number of calories per day. Guess what they found! The high calorie breakfast group showed greater weight loss and waist circumference reduction. Check out these results:

Although fasting glucose, insulin, and ghrelin levels were reduced in both groups, fasting glucose, insulin, and HOMA-IR (measures insulin resistance) decreased significantly more in the high calorie breakfast group. Mean triglyceride (part of your cholesterol panel) levels decreased by 33.6% in the high calorie breakfast group, but increased by 14.6% in the high calorie dinner group. Furthermore, ghrelin (hunger hormone) levels and mean hunger scores were significantly lower and satiety (fullness feeling) scores significantly higher in the high calorie breakfast group.

What can you learn from these studies, especially as you consider Rebecca's case discussed in last week's email? These studies make it clear that the dieting mindset of “trying to be good” earlier in the day by cutting calories, avoiding dessert forever, and skimping on high fiber carbohydrates and protein are not the answer to weight loss, decreasing the risk of metabolic syndrome, a well functioning metabolism or overall health.

Hear This.

Don’t be afraid to fuel your body with solid, hearty meals throughout the day in order to have the energy to handle the demands of your day. Your body needs hardy nutrition especially earlier in the day in order to perform at its best as you tackle the bulk of your work, responsibilities, and challenges. If you go about the beginning of your day running low on nutritional fuel, your hunger will likely catch up with you at a suboptimal part of the day, when you no longer need as many calories.

​And please, don’t hear what I’m NOT saying. I am not suggesting that you be religious about not eating after a certain time of the day. That would just be trading one dieting rule for another. Instead, I am encouraging you to not shy away from properly fueling your body throughout the day to avoid binging in the evenings and promote better overall health.

​There are many more studies mentioned in the article below. Some are qualitative, which means you cannot formulate causal relationships from the findings, however interesting and important correlations can be identified. Please check them out to help further educate yourself!

Review further studies here.

Articles specifically discussed in this article:

  1. Bandin C., Scheer F.A., Luque A.J., Avila-Gandia V., Zamora S., Madrid J.A., Gomez-Abellan P., Garaulet M. Meal timing affects glucose tolerance, substrate oxidation and circadian-related variables: A randomized, crossover trial. Int. J. Obes. 2015;39:828–833. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2014.182.

  2. Jakubowicz D., Barnea M., Wainstein J., Froy O. High Caloric intake at breakfast vs. dinner differentially influences weight loss of overweight and obese women. Obesity. 2013;21:2504–2512. doi: 10.1002/oby.20460.

  3. Jakubowicz D., Froy O., Wainstein J., Boaz M. Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults. Steroids. 2012;77:323–331. doi: 10.1016/j.steroids.2011.12.006.

Heaps of blessings,

Mikyah, RDN, LD, CD


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