Three Common Mealtime Questions
I’ve received a few questions recently on the importance of breakfast and eating before bedtime. Conflicting data on these topics can often distract us from the more important aspects of fitness and nutrition. Here I lay out some of the basics associated with these common questions.
1. How important is it to eat breakfast in the morning?
First, I hope it’s obvious that this question assumes we’re discussing a balanced, healthy breakfast. (If potato chips and soda are your idea of breakfast, we need to have another discussion altogether!) Moving on…a healthy breakfast provides energy and nutrients the body needs. You are literally “breaking the fast” in the morning and it’s important to start to fuel your body for the day’s activities. Eating a healthy meal in the morning can also help curb your appetite later in the day. Breakfast should be one of several balanced meals throughout the day. Eating regularly and avoiding long periods without food allows you to maintain energy levels and avoid overeating. Skipping meals causes the body to store greater quantities of fat as it tries to retain energy. Remember, breakfast doesn’t have to be a buffet feast. Try a piece of fruit, a bowl of cereal or oatmeal to start the day off right.
2. Which meal should be the biggest…or smallest?
While the goal should be to manage portion sizes and avoid extremely large meals, it’s best to eat the largest meals of your diet earlier in the day. Several studies have shown that eating larger meals earlier in the day, as opposed to having a large dinner, may help with weight loss. Additionally, those that lose the most weight seem to make breakfast their largest meal of the day. Part of the reason behind this relates to daily energy and activity levels. People are most active during the daytime, having been fueled by earlier meals and typically being active through work or exercise before the evening. Again, the goal is to keep portion sizes manageable but if you are planning to indulge a bit, it’s best to do it earlier in the day vs. eating an extremely large dinner.
3. Is there a problem with eating close to bedtime?
Despite popular belief, eating close to bedtime is not a big deal (as far as nutrition and calorie burn goes). Keeping in mind the last paragraph regarding the size of your nighttime meal, as the body winds down and eventually enters the sleeping period of the evening, the body’s energy requirements decrease. The truth is that some calories will be burned and some will be stored for later use, no matter when you eat throughout the day. It’s more important that you don’t overeat, as excess calories can and will be stored as fat. One point of consideration with nighttime eating however, is its possible effect on sleep quality. Some find resting more difficult when they consume a meal closer to bedtime. If this is the case, eating earlier in the evening should allow more restful sleep. The importance of adequate and appropriate rest cannot be understated. Research shows that sleep loss is strongly tied to obesity and weight gain.
No matter how many people you ask about these topics, you’ll get just as many opinions. As always, I try to present accurate, unbiased, research-based information. The important thing however, is not to get too bogged down with the details of what to eat when. If your overall daily calorie intake is at or below what your body requires for energy, you will not gain weight. 1) Eat smartly by managing portions and choosing your foods wisely. 2) Exercise to burn more calories throughout the day. It’s really as simple as these two things!