Weight Loss

Weight Loss Influenced by Timing of Meals

Eating a large breakfast, fewer meals and snacks, and extending the overnight fast to 18 hours was associated with a decrease in body mass index (BMI), according to a recent study.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from the Adventist Health Study 2, which included a cohort of 50,660 adults who were 30 years of age or older. The number of meals per day, length of overnight fast, consumption of breakfast, and timing of the largest meal were assessed, and changes in BMI per year was measured as the primary outcome.  
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Participants who ate 1 or 2 meals per day saw greater reductions in BMI per year compared with participants who ate 3 meals a day. Conversely, those who ate 3 meals and snacks throughout the day experienced a relative increase in BMI.

Additionally, participants who had an overnight fast that lasted 18 hours or more experienced a decrease in BMI compared with those who had an overnight fast of 12 to 17 hours.

Breakfast was associated with a decrease in BMI compared with skipping breakfast. Likewise, eating the largest meal at breakfast was associated with a significant decrease in BMI compared with eating the largest meal at dinner. While eating a larger meal at lunch was associated with only a small decrease in BMI, the decrease was still significantly higher than eating the largest meal at dinner.

“Our results suggest that in relatively healthy adults, eating less frequently, no snacking, consuming breakfast, and eating the largest meal in the morning may be effective methods for preventing long-term weight gain,” the researchers concluded. “Eating breakfast and lunch 5–6 h apart and making the overnight fast last 18–19 h may be a useful practical strategy.”

—Melissa Weiss


Kahleova H, Lloren JI, Mashchak A, Hill M, Fraser GE. Meal frequency and timing are associated with changes in body mass index in Adventist Health Study 2 [published online July 12, 2017]. J Nutr. doi:10.3945/​jn.116.244749.