What’s the Best Time To Eat Your Meals?
  • November 9, 2017
  • time to eat your meals

    Ahhh Daylight Savings Time (DST), a reminder of time’s relativity. Chronic alarm snoozers rejoice! Others may consider the cha-cha our clocks play every fall and spring just one more reason to move to Hawaii where DST is not observed.

    Prior the birth of my mini-me, I looked forward to relishing in the extra hour spent between the sheets, or in my early 20s, the extra hour on the dance-floor. Nowadays setting my clocks back merely means I wake up at 4:00 am instead of 5:00 am. Gee life sure has changed … right? Hawaii is looking better and better!

    The fixed internal clock of my tiny-tot brings to light the profound influence the rotation of the Earth has on our health. You may have heard of an “internal clock”  – the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize in Medicine was given to Jeffrey C. Hall, Michael Rosbash and Michael W. Young for work on this this exact topic. Their research lead to discoveries indicating there are actually mini-clocks within nearly all cells throughout the body. These clocks are influenced by environmental cues, like light exposure and when we eat, sleep, move and more. Modern life consisting of shortened sleep, artificial light (especially at night), eating late, and inconsistent meal times can really throw a wrench into the gears of our biological clocks!

    In the U.S. one in three people report not getting enough sleep (at least seven hours nightly). Those who report sleeping less than six hours nightly have increased 31 percent in the last 30 years. This trend may look familiar as it seems to track with Americans’ increasing waist lines and cases of type two diabetes. Research in this area shows a shocking relationship between both short and disrupted sleep and weight gain.

    What’s a consequence of inadequate sleep? So glad you asked! A potential perfect storm for unwanted weight gain, in part, due to an accentuated appetite, a preference for junk food and a decrease in calories the body burns.

    In addition to shortened sleep times Americans seem to eat all of their food within 15 hours. This is a long eating window my friends! Much of our eating (75 percent to be precise) is later in the day, and the food eaten after 6:30 pm is typically in excess anyways. There is a relationship between late eating and an increase in body weight. Unfortunately, nature seems to have a cruel sense of humor as human appetite peaks at around 8:00 pm!

    Armed with this information, you may be able to optimize your eating time for a weight loss edge. For example, a study out of Spain noted that dieters eating earlier in the day lost 25 percent more weight than those eating later in the day. It may even be possible to just shift the majority of your calories to earlier in the day to see improved weight loss while dieting, as emerging research is indicating. Another group of researchers fed rats the dietary equivalent of cheeseburgers and milkshakes but restricted the feeding time to 9-12 hours of the day on five out of seven weekdays. (How nice, they let the rats cut lose for the weekend.) To my surprise, they noted improved body composition compared to rats given free rein on the same diet even though the rats ate the same amount. (Note: This is not a cheeseburger and milkshake endorsement)

    I discussed with a good friend from grad school, Jake Mey PhD, RD, some best practices to sync meal timing for optimal weight loss.

    1. Prepare and pre-stock.

    Having healthy options on hand will make it easier to grab an on-the-go snack or quickly prepare dinner when getting home. Jake adds, “Having healthy food at your fingertips might increase the likelihood of making smart nutrition choices in case you didn’t get enough sleep the night before.”

    2. Set some doable limits for dinner.

    One option is to try “time restricted feeding.” Jake suggests trying one of two methods:

    1. Eating all your food within a shortened period of time (i.e. 8-12 hours).
    2. Having your final meal of the day more than two hours before bedtime – that means no snacking in bed. This could be by eating within a shortened period of time (i.e. 8-12 hours).

    This is difficult for me because the evening munchies hit me HARD. So, I allow one snack after dinner. My go-to is an apple with peanut butter, and I typically enjoy it while watching Frasier (yes, my life is very exciting). We both agree the key is to find what works for you. If you’re taking certain medications or monitoring a medical condition, we suggest you consult with your physician for their advice first.

    3. Indulge early!

    Cookies for breakfast anyone? Ok, this was mostly my recommendation as I have not one sweet-tooth, but a whole mouth full of them! Denying yourself the foods you enjoy makes it difficult to stick to a healthy nutrition plan. Instead, integrate a small treat into your plan and enjoy your treat earlier in the day. Doing so may help you satisfy your cravings for the rest of your day.

    4. Go to bed!

    Remember how awesome it was to get an extra hour of sleep when you set your clocks back? Truth! You can experience “fall-back” more than just once a year by going to bed a little bit earlier. The second season of Stranger Things will still be there tomorrow.


    You may not feel the Earth’s rotation, but your cells sure do. Integrate these habits into your day to allow your body to fall back into its flow.

    About Kristin Hoddy

    Kristin Hoddy PhD RDN is a nutrition researcher and private practice dietitian living in the Chicago area. She has 10 years of working experience in the health and fitness industry, and currently she is a postdoctoral fellow. Kristin is passionate advocate for science communication and aims to help people find “their healthy” by making cutting edge research easier to understand. She enjoys sharing what she learns researching nutrition as a writer and as a private practice dietitian. Feel free to reach out to Kristin @KristinHoddyPhD for nutritional counseling or writing inquiries.