Eating for Weight Control: Early and Not Often

If you have diabetes — either Type 1 or Type 2 — there’s a good chance you’ve run into advice to eat frequent, smaller meals. The logic of this suggestion is that if your food intake becomes more stable throughout the day, your blood glucose levels will also see fewer spikes and dips. While many people may experience this benefit if they switch to smaller, more frequent meals (and planned snacking), a recent study shows that when it comes to weight control, frequent eating may not be the answer.

Published in July in The Journal of Nutrition, the study included more than 50,000 participants over an average period of more than 7 years. Researchers looked at a number of different factors in their eating habits, including how many meals they ate daily, how long they fasted overnight, whether they ate breakfast, and which meal tended to be their largest. The aim was to find out how these habits affected participants’ body-mass index (BMI) — a measure of weight that takes height into account.

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After controlling for certain demographic (such as age) and lifestyle factors, the researchers found that participants who ate one or two meals each day were more likely to lose weight than those who ate three meals. In contrast, eating more than three meals each day — regardless of their size, or whether participants considered them a snack — was associated with an increase in BMI. As noted in an article on the study at Diabetes.co.uk, having a long overnight fast of at least 18 hours on a regular basis was also associated with greater weight loss, compared with a medium overnight fast of 12 to 17 hours. And another factor that helped participants lose weight was having their largest daily meal in the morning or at midday, rather than in the evening.

The researchers believed that these effects were probably due, in part, to people being more sensitive to insulin earlier in the day, leading to more efficient processing of nutrients by the body during that time. They also noted that a longer fasting interval before bed ensures that the body has enough time to digest food and process nutrients before the process is interrupted by sleep.

What’s your reaction to this study — have your found that eating fewer meals, or eating them earlier in the day, helps with weight control? Have you found that the opposite approach — eating more small meals throughout the day — helps control your blood glucose levels? Do you think you’d be able to eat only within a six-hour window, every day, without getting overly hungry or experiencing large blood glucose fluctuations? Leave a comment below!

Want to learn more about weight management? Read “Tried and True Weight-Loss Techniques,” “Strategies for Weight Management,” and “Why Can’t I Lose Weight?”