When to Eat for Weight Loss – Do We Really Have to Eat at Certain Times?

Taking a look at what the science says.
Published September 28, 2022

You’ve heard it all before: Don’t eat late at night, don’t eat after 7 p.m., always eat breakfast, eat within a certain time window after waking up. There’s all sorts of stuff out there about when to eat and when not to eat for weight loss, but is any of it true? We’re taking a look at what the research really says about when to eat for weight loss.

Early time-restricted eating

Early time-restricted eating refers to eating all meals earlier in the day (e.g. from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.) as opposed to eating over a 12-hour window. This study, which ran a randomized clinical trial over 14 weeks, determined that this method was more effective at losing weight (but not body fat) and improving diastolic blood pressure and mood than eating over a window of 12 or more hours.

While the study is interesting and puts a tick in favour of eating earlier in the day, WeightWatchers nutrition and science team posit that the results could be in part due to a lack of social eating and the act of skipping dinner, which is the largest meal of the day for many people, that would coincide with stopping all food consumption after 3 p.m.

Breakfast

Many of us grew up being told that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, but we’ve all met people who regularly skip breakfast (or perhaps we even skip it ourselves), or people who don’t eat breakfast till late morning. So, when’s the right time to eat breakfast? Here’s what the science says:

  • Breakfast is a great way to get some of the key nutrients that many of us don’t eat enough of – and people who eat breakfast routinely typically have higher intakes of dietary fibre and calcium, compared with those who skip breakfast.
  • Current evidence does not conclude that breakfast has a strong effect on weight loss outcomes, but research does suggest that breakfast eaters may be at a healthier weight and more likely to engage in healthier habits, such as activity.
  • Some evidence shows that high-protein breakfasts can help achieve weight loss in an obese population.
  • The notion that skipping breakfast leads to greater food consumption throughout the day has been debunked as a myth.
  • Eating breakfast has been tied to better overall health, including a reduced risk for chronic disease and cognitive benefits.
Intermittent fasting

This is a concept that’s garnered a lot of attention in recent years, but there’s not a ton of research to back it up. Some people may find it helpful to stop eating after certain times, say 8 p.m., as a behavioural tool, but it should be noted that intermittent fasting is highly restrictive, and it does not offer any additional weight loss benefits compared with calorie-restricted eating plans.