This is something we have known for years: Don’t eat large meals late in the day. Traditionally in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Spain the main meal is consumed between 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. You can read more about when we eat here: “When Greeks Eat”. After that we had a little nap and an evening meal consisted of something light such as yogurt and fruit or bread, cheese and olives. According to a new Spanish study that followed 420 Spaniards who were on a weight loss diet, those who ate their main (largest) meal before 3 p.m. lost more weight (5 pounds more) compared to those that ate that meal after 3 p.m.
So this main meal is basically lunch because of the time of day consumed. But lunch in the U.S. for example is quite different than lunch in Greece or Spain. Lunch in the U.S. is consumed usually around 12:00 noon and is a smaller meal, while dinner is the main meal. Unfortunately many media outlets when reporting this study, used headlines saying that “eating an early lunch will help you lose weight”, but what does that mean for an American? Nothing, because it does not apply to those in the U.S., in the sense that Americans already eat an early lunch compared to Mediterranean countries. The correct title should have been: “Those who eat their largest meal of the day before 3 pm lose more weight” and that is the take home message.
Now going back to the study, the researchers noted that even though caloric intake was about the same in both groups, the “late eaters” lost less weight. Calories burned, sleep duration and appetite hormones were also similar among both groups, which means that there are other factors affecting weight loss. The authors wrote that timing of food intake itself may have a significant role in weight regulation.
Having said all this, it is important to note that more and more Greeks are eating much later than 3 p.m. due to changes in work schedules, school schedules, many of them eating their main meal late in the evening. The good news is that many Greeks try and eat their main meal even if they are at work, ordering a complete meal for lunch or bringing home cooked meals with them.
Now what if you don’t live somewhere in the Mediterranean? You can make small adjustments to your schedule and try to have your main meal earlier in the day. Try eating a substantial lunch rather than just a sandwich or salad. If you have a choice, try to eat at around 1 p.m. rather than 11:30 a.m. or 12 noon, and plan for dinner to be a lighter meal.