Use The Clock to Lose Weight

Most diet experts say losing weight is simply a matter of taking in fewer calories than you burn. End of story. In this scenario, all calories are created equal.

However, I’ve just read some interesting new research that suggests another factor may be at play. It seems a calorie may be less fattening if it’s eaten at the right time of day. And more fattening if it’s eaten at the wrong time of day.

If you are like me, you guessed that… eating most of your calories at breakfast is the way to go.

If you did, you would also be incorrect.

So what’s the meal that’s most important to time right? You’ll find out in a minute…

When to Eat Your Biggest Meal

Let’s take a look at the study. Over a five-month period, Harvard researchers followed 420 middle-aged overweight dieters. The dieters were simply encouraged to follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of fish, olive oil, vegetables and whole grains.

The diet also emphasized lunch as the main meal. Why is this important? Because it was this meal that demonstrated that a calorie might not just be a calorie.

It turns out that those who ate this main meal before 3:00 pm lost significantly more weight, and at a faster rate than those who ate a later lunch.1 And, the early lunch eaters also had significantly better insulin sensitivity than the late lunch eaters.

I was more than a little surprised to see these results. Especially when you consider that the participants consumed the same number of calories per day, the same type of calories per day, and had similar amounts of activity levels.

What is also surprising is that timing of breakfast and dinner did NOT have an effect. Only the timing of the main meal of the day made a difference… I find this remarkable.

Why Did Early Lunch Eaters Lose More?

So why did the early-lunch eaters lose more weight than those who ate it later? The research isn’t clear, but one theory is that sugar may be processed differently depending on the time of day. Remember, the early lunch eaters had better insulin sensitivity than late lunch eaters.

And why should that matter, you ask?

Here’s why: After you eat, the pancreas pumps out insulin to shuttle the sugar out of your bloodstream and into your cells. Once inside the cells, the sugar is either used for energy, or converted into fat. When insulin is working in top form (aka better insulin sensitivity), it’s more easily able to get the sugar into the cells for energy and less is stored in your body as fat.

Again, we’re not sure this is the answer. However the fact that early lunch eaters had better insulin sensitivity than late lunch eaters makes it a good guess.

What are some diet truths you’re sure about? Tell me about them and I’ll investigate. As you can see, even the experts can be wrong sometimes.

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

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1. Garaulet M, Gómez-Abellán P, Alburquerque-Béjar JJ, Lee YC, Ordovás JM, Scheer FA. Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Jan 29. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.229. [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 23357955.

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  1. I’m 48 and quit smoking a year ago. I gained 30 pounds. I’m also experiencing menopausal symptoms. My problem is I sleep for about an hour then wake up so hungry, then indulge. I do eat protein, berries, veggies at meals. I want to sleep soundly without being hungry. CN you help? Thank you.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Helen,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns! Try indulging in high fiber vegetables such as salad greens at lunch and dinner. These will help you stay full longer and ease some of the cravings. Also, if you often wake up “hungry” it may not be real hunger but instead, a craving for something sweet or salty. If so, one of the most effective strategy I use on myself is to distract and redirect, I think of something else to do and hop to it. After awhile, I completely forget my craving. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  2. Consuelo Santiago

    I want to lose weigh but my problem is that I have bad knees I can’t do many exercises that have to do any bending or kneeing or running and most of all I don’t eat a lot of foods I don’t like Hardly anything what could I do to loose weigh I need to loose like 15 pounds

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Consuelo,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! I understand muscle and joint pain can make exercising difficult. It is during times like these that I encourage everyone to try and get as much movement as you possible can in order to preserve and maintain movement. There are a few low impact exercises which you can do at home such as simple stretching ( yes, they burn calories too!) in the mornings and evening. Yoga and Tai Chi are also great not just for breathing but also calming the mind and rejuvenating the spirit. last and my most favorite of all, swimming! Now that the weather’s getting a little warmer, swimming is an excellent exercise that can stretch and tone your body. You are able to rotate your joints, regulate your breathing and burn calories. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  3. esther pearlman

    Thanks for answering my questions about the different types of milks. I was wondering about the ingrediance in the back of the package. There are a whole lot of artificial stuff. I thought that wasn’t so good for you. I heard that if you take 1/2 cup of raw nuts, almonds, walnuts or cashews, soak them overnight with 1/2 cup of water in the fridge. Then the next day, drain them and put in a blender that would be better and fresher. What do you think? But of course, buying it in a package would be faster. Thanks Dr Steve.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Esther,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! There are advantages to making your own milk but they do take some time. However, if you do have time to spare, I do encourage you to give it a tray. I ma not certain of the recipe you suggested but I do the same with just almonds, occasionally. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  4. estherpearlman

    Hi, I have a protein drink in the morning. Do you have a preference between hemp milk, coconut milk, or soy milk? Some of the ingredience on the back don’t look so hot. Would you recommend some thing? I do bring nuts in my car when I tool around doing my errands and such. I make a drink with filtered water , temeriic, cinnamon, garlic powder, honey during the day. That is for lunch. Then we eat at about 4 pm. for dinner. For a snack I have an apple. But, those Famous Ames chocolate cookies look good. I try not to eat them. Thanks Dr Steve. Always enjoy your ideas! ps. I wasn’t able to walk around the block because my daughter didn’t leave her terrior, Dusty with us this year, But, I did walk 30 steps in my house to make up for not walking around the block.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Esther,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your experience with us! It is always good to hear from you and I am very happy to learn that you are actively pursuing activities that maintain your good health. I do hope your daughter gets to leave Dusty with you and please feel free to do extra laps around the block when you are able. As for your milk concerns, I often recommend almond, coconut or organic milk. Soy milk works just as well but I find that almond and coconut milk helps me reduce the need for honey or sweetener. Looking through your drink recipe and snack, they seem to be perfectly fine for you but I do suggest that you control your portions of cookies. I understand how difficult this can be at times but a piece or two once a week should be fine for you. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

    • I like the drink you are talking g about with the cinnamon garlic water ect. I would like to try it. Can you give me exact amounts of measurements

  5. Best products for improving one's immune system?

    lupus issues

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Suzanne,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! I am deeply sorry but are quite unable to recommend any product to help with your Lupus Issues. However, I do suggest that you speak to your doctor about this and get his thoughts on you adding other supplements to your diet, aside from your current set of medications. Also, try making the majority of your diet rich in a variety of vegetables and fruits. Also limit your daily intake of saturated fats, opting instead for foods with high Omega 3 fats such as salmon, avocados, nuts and olive oil. It’s also important to find an activity you enjoy doing. Not only will it help you to burn extra calories, you will start to feel younger, stronger and healthier! Hope this helps!

    • May I suggest you read a book, “Goodbye Lupus” by Brooke Goldner, M.D.

  6. I always try and eat healthy due to history of heart disease in my family. I’m on medication for high bp and other issues. Between 2008-2013 I was pretty much immobile. I’ve been trying to lose weight and I’m losing pants sizes but not the lbs I believe that I should be. I was in a size 22 pants and I’m almost ready to go into a 14. Any insight into why this is going on?? Thank you for your input in advance, Michelle

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Michelle,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! Congratulations! Dropping from a size 22 to a 14 is truly amazing progress! I understand that not seeing the weight go down may feel frustrating but the fact that you have lost inches, instead of pounds are still amazing results. Look for other signs such as, are you breathing better? Feeling better? At ease or less stressed? These are all signs that the changes you are making are working and I do encourage you to keep them up! Some folks lose weight quite quickly during their transition to better health as they lose water weight during the first few days. A little after, some see stagnation as their body has recovered. However, in your case, you have managed to tone down and firm up. While you may weigh the same, it is important to remember that protein is more compact when compared to fat. Hope this helps! Make it a healthy day!

  7. I’m a stylist/LMT with a crazy work schedule. I’m lucky to have a lunch break whenever that is possible. Some days it is after 2 or 3 if at all. Having a large lunch is totally out of the ????!! I eat a late supper so I’m sure that plays a big part in my weight loss. What to do!!,, crazy life/crazy meal schedule!!if one eats late then it is difficult if u are not hungry for breakfast. Any ideas appreciated !!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns! I completely understand what you mean! Sometimes a hectic schedule can make it pretty hard for us to remember to eat. This is why I keep a few snack choices handy whenever I am in the office or going for the day. I keep a few baggies of cut up vegetables and a handful of nuts and berries in my bag for me to munch on in between appointments. I am not certain of the kind of meals you prefer but having a wrap or healthy but hearty sandwich often tides me over. In the evenings, a light salad paired with a slice of grilled chicken or fish is ideal. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  8. But please give us the citation for the study you index.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Linda,

      Thank you for writing in! The study referenced in this article is written below the post. You can view it here: Garaulet M, Gómez-Abellán P, Alburquerque-Béjar JJ, Lee YC, Ordovás JM, Scheer FA. Timing of food intake predicts weight loss effectiveness. Int J Obes (Lond). 2013 Jan 29. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2012.229.

      Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

      • Who doesn’t eat lunch before 3:00? Sounds like an idiotic study to me. I’m a science librarian and this sounds useless to me. I eat at 1:00 and don’t lose weight.

  9. I am a nurse and if you get your lunch break before 1400hrs, you are lucky….isn’t it funny that health providers care little about timing factors for health

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Anne,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! I could not agree with you more. Have a healthy day!

  10. A citation would be nice. In order to understand the significance of this study, you have to know what questions were asked. Unless “lunch” is defined as the second meal of the day, any meal eaten after 3 p.m. can hardly be called “lunch.” The sample must have included people who worked strange hours, such as a graveyard shift, in which case, it’s not a representative population, and it’s also impossible to conclude that eating lunch after 3 is what caused these people to lose less weight.

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Eugenia,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your thoughts with us! Lunch, in this context is the second large meal(and the heaviest of the day) eaten during the day and before 3 pm. That said, I do understand your apprehension but do want you to know that this study was conducted over a period of time and a Mediterranean type of Diet was also had by the group. I do agree with the points you raised and shall be looking out for more research about this topic. Hope this helps! Have a healthy day!

  11. I have also been doing a lot of reading about the “right time of day, intermittent fasting, the importance of weight lifting (even just light)” What do they consider lunch time to be? Noon to 3P?
    Is the Mediterranean Diet the best in your opinion to follow and what if you do not like fish? Also, what are your ideas on fasting from 9P to 12P? I have been doing this type of fasting for 4 weeks now and I have definitely lost some weight (only 5 pounds to date) but have not yet incorporated the weight lifting. I will be starting the weight lifting program in 2 weeks and will make an adjustment to this diet (Mediterranean and eating my biggest meal at lunch time) to see if that makes a difference. Thank you so much for the information you have provided this day and any thoughts you can share on my questions would be greatly appreciated. Have a great and safe day! KC

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi KC,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your concerns with us! Fasting, has been known to work on some people but not give the same results for others. It may be because it works for a certain body type or factors such as medication or medical condition influences your results. That said, I do encourage you to give it a try and see if it works for you but do proceed with caution if you are planning on adding a physically demanding routine like High Intensity Interval Training or weight lifting.

      Lunch is typically the second heaviest meal of the day and eaten between the hours of 12 to 3pm. In terms of diet plans, I do find the Mediterranean diet quite easy to follow and does not leave you wanting more. If you do not like fish or seafood, you can omit that from your plan and increase your intake of beans, nuts and vegetables instead. Also, as you are embarking on a new kind of training routine, I do recommend that you monitor your well-being every so often as you might run the risk of getting low blood sugar.

      Lastly, congratulations on your weight loss! I am so glad that you are not only successful in your journey but continue to strive to make these small permanent and healthy lifestyle changes. I would love to know more about your progress so please do not hesitate to share! Make it a healthy day!

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