Maybe breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
Eating habits around the world vary, but in the United States and many other Western nations, dinner tends to be the main meal of the day. According to recent research, this is a big no-no if you’re trying to lose weight.
A 2013 study involved 420 overweight and obese people who enrolled in a five-month weight loss program. The researchers classified “late eaters” as people who ate their biggest meal after 3pm, and they lost significantly less weight than “early eaters” who ate their main meal before 3pm. It also took the late eaters more time to lose weight than those who ate earlier.
Another study linked late eating with a risk of developing acid reflux symptoms — anything from heartburn and indigestion to coughing and asthma. The study looked at 350 people and concluded that eating dinner within 3 hours of bedtime is associated with these risks.
Even after controlling for other potential variables that could affect heartburn, like smoking and BMI, the results still held.
Why is eating late so bad for our bodies? It takes the stomach about 3 hours to empty itself, and sitting upright helps us digest. As Erin Brodwin writes for Business Insider, “Our bodies aren’t designed to eat a big meal and collapse on the couch afterwards.”
Laying down after eating can cause stomach acids to leak out into the esophagus, which is what leads to reflux symtoms. Waiting at least 3 hours to lay down or sleep after a meal helps keep the food down and promotes a healthy digestion process.
Waiting until the end of the day to eat your biggest meal can also inadvertently influence you to eat more than you would otherwise. Eating smaller meals throughout the day can leave you feeling extra hungry by dinnertime, leading you to scarf down your meal and eat it too fast.
According to the Harvard Health Blog, it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register a full stomach. If you’re eating too fast and over-indulging multiple nights a week, it will likely lead to weight gain.
You may be thinking that shifting around your eating habits and mealtimes — essentially a lifestyle change — is easier said than done, but it’s doable. Starting small is key, according to Brodwin.
Try adding some healthy snacks to your daily routine to avoid overeating once you get home. Go for high-protein breakfasts and eat lunch about 4 hours after breakfast. Even small changes will help you avoid feeling starving by the time dinner comes around, and you’ll likely become more conscious of what you’re putting in your body.
After dinner, try taking a brief walk, or maybe do some laundry or a quick yoga video — anything to keep you from plopping down on the couch and getting sucked into a Netflix marathon.
There’s no quick and easy solution when it comes to weight loss, but there are certain lifestyle changes that can help you along the way. Eating your main meal before 3pm is definitely a good start!