Lower Weight Gain Associated with Meal Frequency and Timing

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Eating less frequently, reducing snacking, consuming breakfast, and eating the largest meal in the morning may be effective methods for preventing long-term weight gain.

Scale and Tape Measure

Scale and Tape Measure

Everyone is looking for the key to lose weight and avoid regaining it.  There is not a panacea or easy path to lose weight, but one new study may have found the key to preventing regain.  In July of 2017, a study by researchers from Loma Linda University School of Public Health and the Czech Republic released a study that might just have found this answer.  The results revealed that timing and frequency of meals play a key role in predicting weight loss or gain.

The study[1] looked at the data from the Adventist Health Study-2 (AHS-2).  Using information from the 50,000 participants, the researchers discovered four factors associated with a decrease in body mass index which they postulated would be helpful in maintaining weight loss after a successful diet. 

The factors associated with a lower BMI included:  

  1. Eating only one or two meals per day.  This association makes sense if you can maintain it because if you eat less, you eat fewer calories and weight loss will ensue.  
  2. Maintaining weight with an overnight fast of up to 18 hours.  This finding also makes a lot of sense because if you only eat for 8 hours during the day, you will likely eat less.  
  3. Eating breakfast instead of skipping it.  This finding matches the findings of the National Weight Control Registry[2]
  4. Making breakfast or lunch the largest meal of the day.  Not too surprising because if you eat more early in the day, it should keep you full longer.  Other studies have confirmed this result[3],[4],[5].
Surprise From Scale

Surprise From Scale

The factors associated with a higher BMI: 

  1. Eating more than three meals per day.  Since snacks are more or less another meal which is counted as extra meals, so more meals should be more calories.  I know this contradicts prior advice from the dietician community, but I suspect this previous advice is flawed.  
  2. Making supper the largest meal of the day.  Once again this would make your largest meal at the end of the day.  

I have to admit that most people cannot function on one meal per day.  It is difficult for me even to imagine eating one meal per 24 hours but especially if the total meals include snacks.  Per an article on this study: Study lead, Hana Kahleova, MD, Ph.D., “offers this advice: eat both breakfast and lunch, but skip supper and avoid snacks.”[6].

The bottom line: This study is consistent with prior research, and it makes sense.  Fasting after lunch if you can avoid grazing should assist weight loss and maintenance.   If you can do it, try it because it might work for you.  

Footnotes
[1]Kahleova et al., “Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2.”
[2]Wyatt et al., “Long-Term Weight Loss and Breakfast in Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry.”
[3]Brikou et al., “Breakfast Consumption and Weight-Loss Maintenance: Results from the MedWeight Study.”
[4]Wyatt et al., “Long-Term Weight Loss and Breakfast in Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry.”
[5]Schlundt et al., “The Role of Breakfast in the Treatment of Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial.”
[6]Ponder, “Loma Linda University Researchers Finds Links between Meal Frequency, BMI.”
Brikou, Dora, Dimitra Zannidi, Eleni Karfopoulou, Costas A. Anastasiou, and Mary Yannakoulia. “Breakfast Consumption and Weight-Loss Maintenance: Results from the MedWeight Study.” British Journal of Nutrition. Cambridge University Press (CUP), April 29, 2016. doi: 10.1017/s0007114516001550
Kahleova, Hana, Jan Irene Lloren, Andrew Mashchak, Martin Hill, and Gary E Fraser. “Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2.” The Journal of Nutrition. American Society for Nutrition, July 12, 2017. doi: 10.3945/jn.116.244749
Ponder, James. “Loma Linda University Researchers Finds Links between Meal Frequency, BMI.” Loma Linda University Loma Linda University Medical Center, July 12, 2017. https://news.llu.edu/research/loma-linda-university-researchers-finds-links-between-meal-frequency-bmi.
Schlundt, DG, JO Hill, T Sbrocco, J Pope-Cordle, and T Sharp. “The Role of Breakfast in the Treatment of Obesity: A Randomized Clinical Trial.” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 55, no. 3 (March 1, 1992): 645–51. [PubMed]
Wyatt, Holly R., Gary K. Grunwald, Cecilia L. Mosca, Mary L. Klem, Rena R. Wing, and James O. Hill. “Long-Term Weight Loss and Breakfast in Subjects in the National Weight Control Registry.” Obesity Research. Wiley-Blackwell, February 2002. doi: 10.1038/oby.2002.13
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About the Author

ChuckH
I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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