Diet plans need to be made based on meal timing, not calorie intake
06/18/2019 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

When nutritionists, researchers, and health experts met at the The Royal Society of Medicine in London last November to discuss Chrono-nutrition: circadian clocks, mealtimes, and metabolic disorders, they all agreed that reducing calorie intake is a thing of the past when it comes to reducing weight. Dietary guidelines should now be based on balanced daily intake as opposed to just balanced meals.

Daily balance and meal timing are keys to an effective diet

According to Dr. Alexandra Johnstone, a professor awarded a personal chair at the Rowett Institute at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, over the years, research shows that what people need is to reverse their daily calorie intake to lose weight. Despite long-held assumptions about calories, it turns out that meal timing is what really matters.

For instance, eating a high proportion of total daily calories in the morning is associated with a lower body mass index (BMI), while skipping breakfast is linked to a 55 percent higher risk of becoming overweight or obese. Johnstone believes that these associations must be considered for weight management.

Michelle Gibbs, a dietitian and nutrition research consultant, understands why some people can't help but eat certain meals at certain times of the day. They need to work around social schedules, work, or school. But Gibbs says they can still ensure that their daily intake of food groups and calories is better balanced throughout the day. Balancing each meal isn't the priority – nutrition is.

"We are used to thinking about a balanced meal but that's actually a misinterpretation of diet plans. As long as you get your nutrients throughout the day, they don't have to be in every meal," advised Gibbs.


As for people who are aiming to lose weight, Gibbs recommends re-assigning carbohydrates and re-assessing their meal timings. People have a basal metabolic rate that allows them to burn a certain amount of calories throughout the day. But since people are normally more active during the day, they also burn extra calories. Therefore, Gibbs suggests taking advantage of this and eating majority of your daily calorie allowance during breakfast and lunch.

When it comes to carbohydrates, Gibbs says pretty much the same thing: "I think one easy and effective thing to do would be to remove those high GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates from the evening meals and just get your carbs at breakfast and at lunch." This would ensure that even if people on a diet go over their limit of 200 g of carbs a day, they would still be able to manage their weight.

"I believe we need more targeted and personal dietary guidelines focusing on the distribution of energy across the day," says Dr. Suzana Almoosawi, a research fellow at the Brain, Performance and Nutrition Research Centre at Northumbria University in the U.K. "Eating occasions are not independent of one another -- they form part of our daily eating patterns."

What is the Chronodiet?

The Chronodiet advocates adjusting your meals in tune with your body clock, specifically, the times when the body optimally absorbs and processes particular foods and supplements. This diet doesn't require meal-replacement or calorie counting; it only asks that people be aware of eating right during breakfast and dinner.

The hours between 12 noon and two in the afternoon are considered lenient time when people can enjoy a variety of foods. This is the two-hour window wherein poor nutrition doesn't have as much consequences. On the other hand, the hours in-between breakfast and lunch, and lunch and dinner are crucial. People on the Chronodiet are advised to avoid snacks and sweet drinks during these periods. The 12 hours in-between dinner and breakfast the following morning should also be empty of any calorie intake. This ensures that people can burn fats and lose weight during sleep. (Related: Why diet plans should take sleeping patterns into account.)

The Chronodiet doesn't treat carbohydrates and fats as enemies. Instead, it recommends that carbohydrates be a part of breakfast and lunch. About 40 percent of a person's daily nutrition should be carbohydrates eaten at the right time. Protein rich foods are also important; they should comprise about 30 percent of a person's nutrition, while the remaining 30 percent should come from fats and calories. The Chronodiet urges people to steer clear of baked goods, french fries, and sweet and alcoholic drinks to reduce fat deposits.

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