Why You Should Eat Like Royalty at Breakfast

CC BY 2.0. Magnus D -- This is the time to fill up.

When you eat during the day can affect weight gain and loss.

You’ve heard the saying before: “Eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch, and a pauper at dinner.” In reality, most Americans do the complete opposite. Twenty to 30 percent skip breakfast altogether, while many grab something small to eat on the run. Dinner is usually the biggest meal of the day, with post-dinner snacking commonly stretching into the evening.

New research from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health in California and published in the July issue of the Journal of Nutrition has taken a closer look at the timing of meals to see how it affects weight gain and loss. The conclusion is that, when the old adage is followed and the biggest meal is eaten first thing in the day, people lose weight more easily:

“The digestive process and the action of insulin, the pancreatic hormone that the body uses to process the sugars in carbohydrates and store glucose, appear to be at their peak performance early in the day. As a result, ‘our body can use the nutrients as a source of energy the easiest’.”

When food is eaten late at night and a body then goes to sleep, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin to bring down the blood glucose within the usual one-hour window. Instead it takes three hours, which doctors have called “evening diabetes.”

An article in the New York Times cites a number of different experiments that support this conclusion, such as lab mice on an unlimited high-fat diet that became obese and diabetic within 9 to 10 weeks. When the same number of calories was consumed within a restricted 8-hour window each day, the mice did not become obese or diabetic.

Another interesting experiment in Israel divided dozens of overweight or obese women into two groups. Both were instructed to consume 1,400 calories a day. One group ate 700 in the morning, 500 at lunch, and 200 at dinner, while the other did the opposite:

“Women in both groups lost weight after 12 weeks, but those who ate the large meal in the morning lost two and a half times as much as those eating the large dinner. The large-breakfast group also lost more body fat — especially belly fat — and saw more improvement in metabolic factors like fasting glucose levels.”

It’s interesting, but one can’t help but feel confused by the ever-changing advice that comes from the nutritional community. Just a few years ago the Times published a story called “Is Breakfast Overrated?” which came to the opposite conclusion of this particular study.

While I’m a big breakfast eater and can therefore relate to the findings of this study, I am also aware that many Europeans – who are, for the most part, much slimmer and healthier than Americans – limit their breakfasts to sugary espresso and croissants, while eating late dinners that mean going to bed with full stomachs. Contrary to what the study suggests, it seems to be working well for them.