The Importance of Maintaining Regular Meal Times

September 22, 2020 | Weight Loss

To maintain a healthy weight, when you eat is just as important as what you eat. Here’s what you need to know.

Intermittent fasting is a popular health and fitness craze that preaches the benefits of cycling between periods of fasting and eating. Typically, intermittent fasting involves doing all of the day’s eating during an eight-hour window and then fasting for the remaining 16 hours of the day, or completely fasting for 24 hours once or twice a week. The idea is that fasting limits your calorie intake, increases your metabolic rate, and forces your body to burn its fat reserves for energy, all of which contribute to weight loss.

Some people do lose a fair amount of weight with this approach, but recent research has shown that fasting, skipping meals, or otherwise eating at irregular intervals is not conducive to sustainable weight loss. After bariatric surgery, eating at irregular times can even be dangerous to your health. Here’s what you need to know. 

The Science Behind Meal Times

Our bodies run on a 24-hour clock and have a very delicate circadian rhythm. This rhythm is what tells our bodies to wake up and be alert in the morning and to start winding down at night. When these biological cues are disrupted and your body deviates from its natural schedule, it’s not best prepared to do what it needs to do. 

According to a 2017 article in the Journal of the American Heart Association, 74 percent of people who skip breakfast don’t meet two-thirds of the recommended dietary allowances for vitamins and minerals, and they’re more likely to have cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The connection between breakfast skipping or infrequent eating and a higher body mass index (BMI) has been extensively documented in cross-sectional studies. In fact, the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that people who ate a simple meal of ready-to-eat cereal each morning were 31 percent less likely to be overweight and 39 percent less likely to have abdominal obesity than those who skipped breakfast. 

So, what’s the connection between meal times and weight? When you skip meals, your body actually works harder to hold onto calories because it’s going into survival mode — it doesn’t know where its next meal is coming from, so it slows your metabolism down to retain all the energy it can. Also, irregular eating leaves you hungrier and more likely to snack on the unhealthy foods you’re craving throughout the day. You don’t always make the best food choices when you’re starving, and many intermittent fasters negate any weight loss progress they might have achieved by eating too much or eating unhealthily during their meal periods.

How to Eat Well (and On-Time)

The good news is that you don’t need to have a large breakfast every morning or eat constantly to maintain your body’s natural rhythm and sustain a healthy weight. Timing is the key. You should consume all of your meals — low-fat meals packed with protein, fresh vegetables, and whole grains — within the same ten-hour window every day. The end of your eating window shouldn’t lead right up to when you go to sleep, however. Try to leave a three-hour gap between your last meal and your bedtime.

By evenly spacing out your meals over the course of ten hours, you keep your energy up and never go more than a few hours without eating, so you won’t be tempted by a snack attack. Also, the 14 hours when you’re not eating naturally coincide with the time you normally wouldn’t be eating — your bedtime — so you’re not forcing your body to power through daily tasks without food. As a result, eating at regular intervals can lead to about a five percent weight loss, improve insulin sensitivity, decrease blood pressure, and reduce your cardiovascular risk factors. If you want to keep the weight off after weight loss surgery, you have to eat right and eat on time.

For more information about weight loss and healthy eating after bariatric surgery, reach out to the weight loss specialists at Long Island Laparoscopic Doctors. Dr. Leslie Welsch, our staff dietitian and nutritionist, has years of experience helping bariatric surgery patients eat well, fuel their bodies, and lose weight. She’ll help you craft a diet plan that suits your needs. Contact us today!