Want to lose weight? You might want to keep your eye on the clock. Researchers at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, Tufts University, and the University of Murcia in Spain may have stumbled on a neat little life-hack for helping people drop pounds: Eat lunch early.
In this study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, scientists enlisted 420 overweight participants in a 20-week weight-loss program in Spain. Unlike the United States, lunch in Spain is typically the largest meal of the day, accounting for 40 percent of a person's daily caloric intake. In this case, researchers divided participants into two groups: One early-lunch group (before 3 p.m.) and one late-lunch group (after 3 p.m.), and monitored their progress closely.
At the end of the 20-week program, late-eaters had lost less weight and dropped pounds at a slower rate than the early-lunch group. This suggests that eating your largest meal earlier in the day gives you more time to burn off the calories you take in. "Eating late at night can raise body temperature as well as blood glucose and insulin levels, which disrupts the fat-burning that generally occurs during sleep," says Alexandra Sifferlin at TIME. "Timing meals, especially the heaviest meals, can make a difference in whether calories are processed into extra pounds or burned away."
While dining culture in Spain and the United States is indelibly different, the takeaway from this study is clear enough: Don't eat a lot later on in the day. In any case, it's a little pearl of wisdom to add to the holy weight-loss trinity of portion control, regular exercise, and plenty of vegetables and lean protein — especially since the bitter winter cold tends to do unkind things to one's waistline.