A Bigger Breakfast and a Smaller Dinner is Better for Weight Loss… or Is It?
When it comes to weight loss, a common belief is that one should not eat too much food later in the day. A large dinner is often perceived as being more likely to be stored as fat (or prevent fat loss) compared to a large breakfast.
But is this commonly held belief true? When it comes to weight loss, does it matter whether or not breakfast or dinner is your largest meal of the day?
This question is one that has been examined previously several times, with differing results.
There are indeed several studies involving both humans and animals showing that meal timing can make a significant difference in terms of weight loss; a few studies show that weight loss was superior when individuals ate a relatively larger breakfast and smaller dinner compared to a relatively smaller breakfast and a larger dinner.
Nevertheless, there are also other studies showing that it did not matter at all when individuals consumed their largest meal of the day.
A group of researchers recently conducted a very controlled study to investigate this issue more thoroughly.
Study: “Timing of daily calorie loading affects appetite and hunger responses without changes in energy metabolism in healthy subjects with obesity.” Ruddick-Collins et. al, Cell Metabolism, 2022.
In this study, participants completed two dieting phases that lasted 4 weeks each. In one dieting phase, they had a small breakfast and a large dinner; in the other, they had a large breakfast and a small dinner. The diets were matched for calories; that is, the large breakfast/small dinner diet had the same amount of daily calories as the small dinner/large breakfast diet. The relative amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats were also matched.
The study was highly controlled: all study participants were provided food from the researchers, and compliance was rigorously tracked.
The results of the study showed that participants lost equal amount of weight (and fat) regardless of whether or not they consumed a large breakfast/small dinner or a small breakfast/large dinner.
However, the participants did report decreased hunger and better appetite control when eating the larger breakfast/smaller dinner compared to the small breakfast/larger dinner.
This particular study reinforces the well established fact that, at a minimum, when it comes to weight loss, the primary factor is total calories consumed, regardless of when they are consumed.
It is easy to get ‘lost in the weeds’ of trivial details when trying to lose weight, and once again this study reinforces the need to focus on the major determination of weight loss success: a sustained calorie deficit (burning more calories than you eat), regardless of how that deficit is achieved (i.e., whether through a large breakfast/small dinner or a small breakfast/large dinner).
The study does suggest the possibility that it might be easier – via reduced hunger and better appetite control throughout the course of the day – to eat a larger breakfast and a smaller dinner, compared to the opposite.
Nevertheless, it is certain that what will matter most in the end is consistency over the long haul: individuals should pursue the kinds of eating patterns that they can adhere too over the course of months and years, not just a few days or weeks.
Sustained weight loss is extremely difficult to achieve in practice, even if relatively simple in theoretical terms.
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