I get equally exasperated and infatuated when nutrition recommendations change. You’d think with all the advanced science and technology we have, we could figure out something as simple as diet. The problem is, diet isn’t so simple after all. There are changes in the environment, lifestyle, biological response, genetics, food sourcing and processing, food technology, different methods of cooking, and so on and so forth.
That fact can be frustrating, but it’s liberating too. It means there’s no one single answer or recommendation that’s set in stone. It also means what I say one day will be completely contradicted the next. I’m relieved I finally found a headline in the news that won’t have me calling former clients back telling them to do the opposite of what I once emphatically recommended: Eat a bigger breakfast. Perhaps the first nutrition tidbit I ever learned was, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.” That simply means eat a big breakfast, a modest-size lunch, and a fairly small dinner. The thought is it helps control appetite and even out blood sugar throughout the day, and you’re not left going to bed on a huge stomach full of food.
Recent research has confirmed that this practice remains a good one. Eating a breakfast of 700 calories can decrease the risks of heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol, as well as help with weight loss, according to this study in Obesity. Yup, eating more can lead to weighing less. (Although not if you eat more for lunch, dinner, and everything in between, as well.)
So here’s another thing to add to that running list in your head. Not only does what you eat and where you eat matter, but when you eat matters too.
Eating a bigger breakfast can help you lose weight. To research this matter, scientists had one group of obese women follow a diet that consisted of 700 calories for breakfast, 500 calories for lunch, and 200 calories for dinner. Another group did the reverse: They had a 200-calorie breakfast, a 500-calorie lunch, and a 700-calorie dinner. I’d venture to say this latter group reflects a majority of us.
For comparison’s sake, the 700-calorie meals were the same thing, regardless of whether they were eaten for breakfast or dinner. Both diets were moderate in fat and carbohydrates, and they did, in fact, get to eat dessert — a relief for anyone who cringes at the word diet.
After 12 weeks, the women eating the bigger breakfast lost just under an average of 18 pounds, as well as 3 inches from their waist. The other group lost a little more than 7 pounds on average, and 1.4 inches from their waist. The big breakfast eaters also experienced larger drops in insulin, glucose, and triglyceride levels (all good things). The big dinner eaters actually had an increase in triglyceride levels, which is not good.
That’s an 11 pound difference for eating the exact same amount of calories and the same foods. The only difference was the time of day the calories were consumed.
So what’s the time of day got to do with it? It seems to affect the way our body processes food. The researchers noted a main difference between the two study groups was the big breakfast eaters didn’t have high blood sugar spikes after a meal.
700 calories may not sound like a lot for breakfast, but for many people that are used to skipping it or just grabbing coffee and a donut, it can be a lot of food to get used to. Gradually adding food to your first meal of the day and taking it away from your last meal of the day may help you not notice as much.