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Could an earlier lunch help you lose weight?

Waiting until later in the afternoon to eat

Waiting until later in the afternoon to eat lunch may not be the best idea. Credit: Waiting until later in the afternoon to eat lunch may not be the best idea.

Want to lose weight? Eating lunch earlier rather than later may help you out.

Dieters who ate early lunches tended to lose more weight than those who had their midday meal on the later side, according to a Spanish study published in the International Journal of Obesity.

The finding doesn't prove that bumping up your lunch hour will help you shed that extra weight, but it is possible that eating times play a role in how the body regulates its weight, researchers said.

"We should now seriously start to consider the timing of food - not just what we eat, but also when we eat," said study co-author Frank Scheer, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston.

His group's research included 420 people attending nutrition clinics in southeast Spain. Along with going to regular group therapy sessions with nutrition and exercise counseling, dieters measured, weighed and recorded their food and reported on their daily physical activity.

Study participants were on a so-called Mediterranean diet, in which about 40% of each day's calories are consumed at lunch. About half of the people said they ate lunch before 3 p.m. and half after.

During 20 weeks of counseling, early and late lunchers ate a similar amount of food, and burned a similar amount of calories.

However, early eaters lost an average of 22 pounds, just over 11% of their starting weight - while late eaters dropped 7.7 pounds, or 9% of their initial weight.

People who eat later may have extra food in their stomach when they go to sleep, which could mean more of it isn't burned and ends up being stored as fat, said Yunsheng Ma, a nutrition researcher from the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

Ma said any implications of late eating could be exacerbated among people in the United States. Many people skip breakfast or lunch, then end up overdoing it on calories at dinner.

Scheer said that in the United States, where dinner is typically the biggest meal, researchers would expect people who eat later dinners to have more trouble losing weight based on his team's findings.

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