Although many people typically eat their biggest meal later in the day, there can be benefits to making breakfast your biggest meal instead.
The idea of eating a big breakfast, medium-sized lunch and small dinner has been around since the 1960s, but now research is starting to back up the benefits of this type of meal plan, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
Whichever meal you decide to make your biggest, make sure it contains healthy foods rather than foods that are high in fat and low in nutrients.
It's generally recommended that you consume the bulk of your calories earlier in the day, which means either breakfast or lunch should be your biggest meal. But it's not always that cut and dried. When it comes to diet, health and weight, total calories count more than when you eat them.
A study published in Obesity in March 2013 found that overweight or obese women who ate their largest meal at breakfast and their smallest meal at dinner lost more weight, decreased their waist circumference and lowered their blood sugar and triglyceride levels more than women who did the opposite. Both groups ate a set diet that contained 1,400 calories per day for the 12 weeks of the study, with just the timing of the largest meal changing.
Not everyone likes to eat a big breakfast. Although you shouldn't skip breakfast, some research shows that waiting until lunch to eat your largest meal may still be beneficial. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity in April 2013 found that people who ate the majority of their calories before 3 p.m. lost more weight than those who ate their main meal after 3 p.m. Both groups ate a similar number of calories throughout the day.
Although people may lose more weight when they make breakfast their largest meal, an earlier study published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 1997 found that those who make dinner their largest meal tend to have an easier time maintaining muscle mass while dieting. Making dinner your largest meal may help you lose more fat and less muscle, resulting in better overall body composition at the end of your diet.
And to allay any fears you may have about eating too much at dinner, an October 2017 review study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating more calories at dinner doesn't have a significant impact on body weight.
It's More About Calories
If you're trying to lose weight, the most important thing is to eat fewer calories, and this may be easier to do if you eat more of your calories earlier in the day rather than later in the day.
People who eat a large breakfast tend to eat less throughout the course of the day, but people don't tend to be as satisfied after eating a large meal in the evening, making it more likely they'll snack after their meal and overeat, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition in January 2004.
The study authors also note that timing of your meals isn't the only important factor involved. Meals that are low in energy density, meaning they don't contain many calories per gram, help you eat less no matter when you eat them.
- Obesity: "High Caloric Intake at Breakfast vs. Dinner Differentially Influences Weight Loss of Overweight and Obese Women"
- Journal of Nutrition: "Weight Loss Is Greater With Consumption of Large Morning Meals and Fat-Free Mass Is Preserved With Large Evening Meals in Women on a Controlled Weight Reduction Regimen"
- Obesity: "Big Breakfast Rich in Protein and Fat Improves Glycemic Control and Satiety in Adults With Type 2 Diabetes"
- American Council on Exercise: "Does Meal Timing Really Matter?"
- Journal of Nutrition: "The Time of Day of Food Intake Influences Overall Intake in Humans"
- International Journal of Obesity: "Timing of Food Intake Predicts Weight Loss Effectiveness"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Are Large Dinners Associated With Excess Weight, and Does Eating a Smaller Dinner Achieve Greater Weight Loss? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis"