Diet blog: when should you eat?

Judith Wills / 17 August 2017

Our diet expert examines research that claims eating most of your calories earlier in the day may help you lose weight.

Probably, we all now know that none of the professionals in the world of nutrition can ever make their minds up about what constitutes a healthy way to eat. 

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I’ve even often seen two separate reports in the same paper on the same day, each coming to the opposite conclusion, for example on whether red wine is good or bad for you, and on whether it is good or bad to be slightly overweight once past midlife.

I’ve got used to it – now I ignore these reports for the most part as they are often small trials, which have very little merit.  If you get 20 people to follow a theory for a couple of weeks, any results are very likely to be as much chance as anything else.  So you should only pay attention to massive trials lasting at least a year, or to overviews, which means that researchers analyse all the work that’s been done to date over many years and, more or less, average out the results.

So be it.

All that said, last week I got annoyed all over again, at being told that, when it comes to weight loss, the time of day you eat is more important than what you eat.  This is a theory that has come in and out of fashion more times than I’ve had hot dinners which, obviously, is quite a lot of times.

And I can’t dismiss it out of hand because 50,000 adults were studied long term and it was found that those eating most of their calories in the morning and fewest in the evening, and also those eating no more than three meals a day (with snacks counted as meals too), were most successful at losing weight short and long-term.

The research team adjusted their findings to exclude demographic and lifestyle factors that might skew the results, so as a piece of research, it can’t be faulted.

However I still think it isn’t relevant for most of us.  Why?  Simply because in order to work, a strategy has to fit in with the lifestyle that we have.  The simple fact is that most of us get up in the morning, get ourselves ready to face the day, and want to get out of the home without faffing around making a large breakfast.   Many of us also are too busy during the day to pay much attention to lunch, and so the evening meal becomes the main meal by default, and also because it’s pleasant to spend some time cooking, even if it’s something basic, sit down, take time over a plate and if we’re lucky, enjoy a sociable occasion too and maybe even a glass of wine.  Evening eating is the perfect wind down to bed.

So no matter if that large breakfast and non-existent or small supper are what will help our waistlines the most, it just isn’t going to happen.  Other studies do show that skipping breakfast and just eating the two meals a day is another good way to keep weight under control, and that’s what I’ll be doing most of the time – though I still eat breakfast now and then if I actually feel hungry in the morning.

Learning to listen to what your body is trying to tell you is, for most of us, the best way of all to keep it in check – weight-wise, at least!

Ate last night

I’m quite impressed with J. Oliver’s new book containing plenty of recipes with only five ingredients.  Yet another way to watch the pounds – although not infallible, using fewer ingredients in your meals generally means fewer calories, too.  He has a version of Tagliata - the Italian dish of steak sliced and served with shavings of Parmesan and rocket – but his includes pinenuts and basil pesto.  Other versions include tomatoes, and sometimes even potatoes.

My favourite version is simply this (to serve two):

Beef Tagliata

  • 4 tbsp cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of a small lemon
  • Few sprigs finely-chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled and very well crushed (optional)
  • A little salt and plenty of black pepper
  • 2 beef steaks (whichever cut you prefer)
  • 30g Parmesan cheese, shaved
  • Half a small bag of wild rocket

Make a dressing by combining the oil, lemon juice, rosemary, garlic (if using), salt and pepper in a screw-top jar and shaking vigorously. 

Heat a griddle pan or heavy frying pan and brush the steaks with a very little olive oil on each side.  When the pan is sizzling, add the steaks and cook to your liking – about 1-2 minutes a side is ideal for a steak of medium thickness.  Remove and leave to rest on a warm plate for 5 minutes. 

Arrange the rocket on serving plates.  Slice the beef and arrange on the plate with the Parmesan shavings, and spoon the dressing over the top.  If there is any juice from the steaks on the resting plate, spoon that over, too.  Serve immediately.

PS Yes it’s more than five ingredients, but only four if you count all the dressing ingredients as one!

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