Do you keep trying and failing to lose weight? Perhaps it’s not so much about what you eat, but when you eat it.
The old adage, “You are what you eat” might be more accurate as, “You are when you eat”. A growing number of studies have found that the timing of our meals – and even the exercise we take – can be key to how easily we lose weight.
Your body is more prone to burn fat at certain times of the day and store fat at other times, says Professor Satchin Panda from the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute in California.
Here’s how to lose weight by changing your schedule…
To drop kilograms, eat early
The latest thinking is that the best way to keep your metabolism healthy is to go 12 hours without eating overnight. Sounds simple? Late-night meals and snacking mean few of us manage this.
Why it works
Satchin’s study found that when you go 12 hours without food, your liver begins to burn fat cells while you sleep. This means if you have your evening meal at 7 pm and don’t eat again until 7 am the next morning you’ll burn fat in your sleep.
However, if you eat your meal at 8 pm and snack at 10 pm and then eat breakfast 10 hours later, your body never reaches the fat burning stage overnight.
Dr Frank Lipman – Gwyneth Paltrow’s New York based doctor – agrees: “Many of us work late, get home late and then stay up late eating heavy meals and snacks in front of the TV. Our bodies never get a chance to work off food.”
Eating late also ruins sleep: Many snack foods disrupt sleep,” says personal trainer James Duigan, who trains Elle Macpherson. “Chocolate contains sugar and caffeine, which are both stimulants. They reduce your ability to fall into a deep, restorative sleep, which means you can become hungrier and have more sugar cravings.”
It’s best to hit the gym after work
Timing counts with your workouts as well as your meal times. New research from the Research Clinical Center of the University of Chicago has found that people who exercise in the early evening are fitter than those who work out in the early morning or lunch time.
“We didn’t expect to see such large differences,” says Dr Orfeu Buxton, who led the study. There were signs that the metabolism adapted well to exercise – it suggested that it may be better to train after work rather than first thing in the morning.
Why it works
Scientists aren’t completely sure why it’s better to exercise in the evening. One possible reason: the body releases higher levels of muscle-building growth hormone in the early evening than in the morning, and exercise also boosts levels of that hormone, so timing the two events to coincide may yield the best results.
But you need a happy workout! Here’s why…
If the thought of the gym after work stresses you out, it will be counterproductive, says James Duigan. “Stress can make you fat because it causes the release of the fat-storing hormone cortisol. So do something you enjoy like dancing or swimming or take a friend with you to gym to make it more fun.
Eat within an hour of waking up
Eating breakfast early sends the signal to your body that the day has started, and delivers a metabolic jump-start. “People who eat breakfast within an hour of waking, rather than skipping breakfast and having a mid-morning snack, are generally slimmer,” says James.
Why it works
It’s important not to go beyond 12 hours without eating. “If you do, your body thinks starvation is imminent,” says James. “So your body clings to kilojoules just in case you can’t find any food. Breakfast stops this process.”
Your kilojoule timing cheat sheet
- Have a regular sleep schedule, so your internal clock stays in sync.
- Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up, unless you ate late.
- Space the rest of your meals three to five hours apart.
- Stop snacking 12 hours before you plan to eat breakfast.
- Go to bed two to three hours after your last meal or snack.