Can You Lose Weight by Timing Your Meals?

How many hours go by between your first bite of the day and your last? If it's more than 12, you may be storing extra fat. Nutrition Diva explains how to use your watch to lose weight (without eating less).

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #314

Is it possible to lose weight and improve your body composition without changing what or even how much you eat?

A fascinating new study suggests that the trick may be in the timing. Before I get into the details, I want to stress that this study was done with mice, not humans. But the results are so striking that it might be worth doing a little experimenting with your own meal timing.>

How Meal Timing Affects Weight Loss

There's a popular myth that if you eat close to bedtime, the calories will be stored as fat. As I've explained in previous episodes, that is not really true. However, at least one study has shown that people who eat the bulk of their calories in the first half of the day lose weight more quickly than those who eat most of their calories in the second half of the day - even when they eat the same amount of calories!

See also: Does it Matter What Time You Eat?


Unfortunately, this isn't the way our bodies are programmed. Research has found that our appetite tends to be strongest in the evening and weakest in the morning - which is the exact opposite of how we are told to behave.

See also: Are We Programmed to Snack at Night?


The new study I mentioned sheds some light on this paradox...and offers a potential solution. Researchers at the Salk Institute in La Jolla, California previously found that mice that were only allowed to eat for 12 hours a day weighed less, had less body fat, and were healthier than mice that had access to food 24 hours a day - even though both groups ate the same number of calories.

They've now demonstrated that this works regardless of whether the mice are given a diet that is high in fat, high in sugar, high in fat and sugar, or a normal diet. It works on mice that are obese as well as on mice that are normal weight, 

And get this: It works even if they give the mice the weekend off, and allow them 24-hour access to food for two days a week.  

Could losing weight and body fat be as easy as limiting our food intake to a 12-hour period every day?


About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.