Eating Earlier Decreases Daily Food Consumption
Eating large amounts of food early in the day, but not late in the day, is associated with decreased total food consumption, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition (2004;134:104–11). Changing eating patterns might therefore be helpful for people trying to lose weight.
Eating is influenced by a complex set of factors such as hunger, mood, biorhythms, habits, cultural norms, food availability, and genetics. A number of studies have examined the rhythm of food intake in humans and found that, in general, significantly more food is eaten in the evening than in the morning. Furthermore, the time between finishing eating and eating again has been shown consistently to become shorter as the day goes on, suggesting that food intake is less filling (satiating) in the evening than at other times of the day. This reduced satiation value of food eaten late in the day, combined with the tendency to eat the greatest proportion of a day’s food in the evening, might contribute to overeating and therefore to overweight and obesity.
More than 60% of adults and 25% of children in the United States are overweight or obese, and excess weight has become an increasing problem over the past 30 years. The health implications of such an overweight population are so great that the U.S. government has recently warned that overweight will soon pose a more serious threat to public health than smoking. There is an ongoing search by healthcare organizations and other groups for effective measures to control overeating.
The current study analyzed food diaries of 867 people. Participants were given diaries and instructed to record every item they ate or drank, its size or amount, the time it was eaten, how it was prepared, the eating environment, and the attractiveness of the food. They were also asked to document their mood and level of hunger and thirst at the time each item was consumed. Participants kept these food diaries for seven days. Food consumption patterns were analyzed for five four-hour time periods of the day.
The amount of food consumed was found to increase with successive time periods until 10 P.M., with the least amount of food being eaten between 6 and 10 A.M. and the greatest amount of food eaten between 6 and 10 P.M. As meal sizes increased, the time between finishing eating and eating again became significantly shorter. Finally, eating a greater proportion of a day’s food early in the day was linked with significantly lower total daily intake than was eating a greater proportion of a day’s food late in the day. Even for individuals, daily food consumption was lower on days when a greater proportion was eaten in the morning than it was on days when a greater proportion was eaten in the evening.
The results of this study are consistent with those of other studies that have shown that food intake increases and its satiation value decreases as the day progresses. Additionally, this study identified a link between increased food intake in the morning and decreased overall daily intake. Future studies are needed to determine whether changing eating patterns to increase morning food intake will result in long-term reductions in overall food intake and weight loss.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice in Quechee, VT, and does extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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