The macronutrient (fats vs carbs vs protein) quality of food has long been the focus of weight loss efforts. In recent years, however, the frequency and timing of meals have received increasing attention.
There is some debate as to whether three larger meals a day, with no snacking in between, is best for weight loss efforts, or rather if small meals, consumed at a higher frequency throughout the day are a more effective approach.
Some evidence suggests that intermittent fasting promotes healthy ageing, an extended lifespan and reduced risk of some chronic diseases, pointing to a potential benefit for reduced meal frequency for positive health outcomes.
Researchers looked at the relationship between meal frequency (how often meals are consumed) and timing (at what times throughout the day meals are consumed) and changes in body mass index (BMI).
Data were analysed from over 50,000 adult members of Seventh-day Adventist Churches across the US and Canada. Meal frequency and timing were collected in addition to macronutrient intake, and sociodemographic and lifestyle information. Each year, changes in BMI were recorded. Participants were followed for an average of seven years.
Eating fewer meals each day was associated with reduced BMI as was having a longer overnight fast between dinner and breakfast. Those who ate their biggest meal for breakfast had greater reductions in BMI than those who had their biggest meal for dinner. It’s important to note that this population was non-smoking and may have had other lifestyle behaviours related to their religious practice that contributed to the positive health outcomes.
This research suggests a benefit for eating an adequate breakfast, and spacing your meal consumption with 5 – 6 hours between breakfast and lunch, and 18 – 19 hours between dinner and breakfast the following day. If you’re trying to lose or maintain weight, it may be helpful to consume your largest meal at breakfast and stick to a lighter meal in the evening.