Trying to shed a few extra pounds? Rather than obsessively tallying calories, you can achieve significant results simply by switching to a large breakfast rather than a big dinner, according to a July 2013 study published in the journal Obesity. Turns out, this eating plan takes advantage of natural fluctuations in the body’s metabolic cycle and reduces diet-sabotaging carb cravings later in the day.
"The time of day that we eat can have a big impact on how our body processes food," says Daniela Jakubowicz, a professor at Tel Aviv University and co-author of the study. "For effective weight loss, appropriate meal timing is more important than counting calories."
Jakubowicz and her colleagues recruited 74 overweight or obese women and divided them into two groups. One group favored a protein- and carbohydrate-heavy breakfast, consuming around 700 calories at the beginning of the day, 500 calories at lunch and 200 calories at dinner. The other group reversed that eating regimen, sticking with a larger dinner and a smaller breakfast.
After following their respective diets for three months, differences had clearly emerged between the two groups: Women who ate the calorie-heavy breakfasts dropped, on average, about 19 pounds – 11 pounds more than their big dinner counterparts. "The same caloric intake spread differently throughout the day leads to a different body weight," notes Oren Froy, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and co-author of the paper. "There is a beneficial effect for a large breakfast over a large dinner."
What’s more, the waists of the big breakfast-eaters were nearly two inches trimmer than the evening eaters, and their glucose and insulin levels dropped significantly more. Additionally, the big breakfast group reported feeling less hungry and more satisfied throughout the day.
"Not eating breakfast is like building a house without laying the foundation," says Keri Glassman, a dietician and nutrition counselor who was not involved in the study. "You have to have breakfast to get your metabolism going, otherwise you will end up over-consuming later in the day."