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What time of day should our biggest meal be?

by 2565 · January 03, 2012 at 06:29 PM

I just read an article http://www.naturalnews.com/034519_meal_planning_digestion_immunity.html#ixzz1i3BxWYgn suggesting that humans evolved to eat our biggest meals in the evening or night because our ancestors were very active during the day and this required a very active sympathetic nervous system. They didn't have much time to eat during the day according to this article, and when the sympathetic NS is active the parasympathetic nervous system is less active, which isn't ideal for digestion since it requires more activity of this nervous system. I know Dr. Kruse and others recommend eating your biggest meal of the day for breakfast, so clearly there is a difference of opinion here about what the best time of day is to eat the majority of our food. Should this issue be taken on a case by case basis, or is there really a best time to do most of our eating, and if so, is it in the morning or at night?

Edit: I remember now that Dr. Kruse recommended a big breakfast just for people doing the leptin Rx, not afterwards. But he still believes breakfast is very important and shouldn't be skipped, which contrasts with the article. It seems Dr. Kruse's argument is that we should actually eat our biggest meal in the evening but we still should eat some protein and fat for breakfast to jumpstart secretion of gastric acid for later when we need it. The question still remains, were our ancestors able to do this or not, or does it even matter as long as it works for us?

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best answer

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15070 · January 02, 2012 at 09:18 PM

One thing to consider is that presumably hunter-gatherers were not leptin resistant. Part of the success with the leptin Rx may come from resetting diurnal leptin patterns that have become out of whack on a diet of processed foods, etc.

This is somewhat similar intermittent fasting, which is good for people who are leptin sensitive but not for those who are leptin resistant. Martin Berkham is not a fan of the "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch a queen, dinner like a pauper" mentality.

So yes, I think this is somewhat of a case by case basis.

Personally, I prefer to eat a huge breakfast (~9am) and huge late lunch (~4pm) and call it a day. Maybe an early afternoon snack. That leaves me with ~17 hrs of fasting, as well as some of the benefits of keeping my diurnal leptin and ghrelin in a good rhythm.

edit: Leptin levels are lower in the morning and higher at night.... seems like we should eat more int he morning.

Also, ghrelin is what tells your stomach to prepare for meals, and that is trainable with consistent meal timing. So with that in mind consistency is most important.

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77322 · January 02, 2012 at 11:38 PM

I'm having trouble imagining a load of stone age hunters marching into the forest with bloated stomachs from their "biggest meal of the day".
A hunter-gatherer would not have spent much time debating this or giving it much thought. If he woke up hungry he would have eaten something. If he wasnt hungry, he would have eaten later when he was hungry.

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19504 · January 02, 2012 at 09:39 PM

I like to eat dinner as the biggest meal of the day. Also the most carbs.

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14843 · January 02, 2012 at 09:35 PM

This is a great question. I find the arguments for both sides compelling, but ultimately I side with the one that best supports digestion (it doesn't matter what you eat, it's what you digest).

If you have a desk job, a large meal at breakfast vs dinner is probably a wash, but if you're active during the day, I'd vote for a larger meal later.

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37013 · January 02, 2012 at 10:27 PM

My story is compatible with others; when I started, morning hunger drove me to eat a huge breakfast. As I lost weight, and lots of fat came off my waist, my morning hunger subsided and finally disappeared.

I'm currently about halfway along in my weight loss, so it's very interesting that my main meal of the day is most comfortable in mid-afternoon. I don't usually eat in the evening as an empty stomach helps to keep my GERD asleep.

It does make me wonder if my main meal will continue to creep to later in the day as I lose the remaining excess fat.

Either way, I definitely do best with one small meal, a main meal and no snacks.

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6629 · January 02, 2012 at 09:31 PM

After you catch it, clean it and prepare it.

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7185 · January 02, 2012 at 09:17 PM

I really think this should be taken on a case-by-case basis. I personally do best with a large breakfast and small lunch and dinner. My husband does best loading the majority of his food towards the end of the day. The main difference between us in that regard is that he has a healthy digestive tract (I do not), and he can't sleep on an empty stomach whereas I can't sleep without one.

Edited to add: Huh, interesting. Copying from Dr. Kruse's website linked by Kasra:
High protein consumption occurs at night now, not at breakfast as it did in the Leptin Rx reset. The reason is because late afternoon is when the human body is normally programmed to undergo up regulation of protein synthesis biochemically. This is how our biology is designed by God/evolution. If you remember back earlier in the post, I told you the key point for breakfast was to use carbs and a small protein load to prime the gastric acid circadian cycle for maximal effect later in the day. This is precisely the reason why. Gastric pH should be highest when we are eating our biggest protein load of the day while simultaneously upregulating protein synthesis maximally in our body. This maneuver actually influences our body composition more than any exercise could if it was added to the equation at all. Doing this on time is akin to an orchestra playing in unison. It is a huge point to try to follow daily.

If this is the case that the leptin resistant do better with the largest meal in the morning and the leptin sensitive do best with the largest meal in the evening, this makes a lot of sense for the differences I see between my husband and me. He has excellent weight management, so I assume he's leptin sensitive, whereas I am leptin resistant according to Kruse's mirror test. I really wonder if I'll prefer to have a larger dinner as I get more leptin sensitive.

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11049 · January 03, 2012 at 06:29 PM

I don't have a set meal schedule, I have evolved to the point where I eat when I am actually hungry, not because society dictates I need to eat lunch at 12 noon, etc. This is what works for me, I never snack, drink water only, some days I don't need eat at all.

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2116 · January 03, 2012 at 09:00 AM

When you are most hungry.

Sometimes we can get too hung up on details and forget that one of the key concepts of getting off SAD is to reset our primal clocks to eat when we are hungry, and until we are not. If this principle governs our eating timing, and Paleo principles guide WHAT we eat, then it seems we will not go far wrong.

I personally know that I have a tendency to eat at "mealtimes" and this needs to be reset. (Yesterday was a great, but all too rare, example when I ate breakfast at 11.30 despite getting up at 7.30am, because I wasn't hungry til then...). SAD drives this regular mealtime as does our modern culture.

Not worrying about food, but using the best fuel only when I need it, is the ideal I'm aiming for.

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6043 · January 02, 2012 at 09:16 PM

Kruse doesn't recommend breakfast as the biggest meal.

As for your question, I would agree with that article. Get shit done in the day time and feast when the sun sets.

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702 · January 03, 2012 at 07:37 AM

I have never been hungry when I first wake up in the morning. The health and fitness media would always say to have a big breakfast. Because of that I would always force myself to eat a huge meal in the morning.

Thank you Intermittent Fasting! Now my biggest meal of the day is usually my post workout meal which is usually my first meal after the fast. This usually happens around 2 or 3pm. I taper off calories thru the day from there. That epic sized post workout meal is usually 50% or more of my daily calories : )

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2543 · January 02, 2012 at 09:30 PM

i'd say my meals are pretty even, though if anything my dinner can become larger than the others. obviously my life-style has little to do with a hunter-gatherer one, but i have way more time to put into cooking a great meal in the evening. breakfast i tend to IF, or have something very quick, like a couple of scrambled eggs...and lunch i tend to assemble from whatever left-overs i have at the moment. dinner = feast :-)

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13583 · January 02, 2012 at 09:19 PM

Case by case. My biggest meal is lunch, then a tiny dinner and usually no breakfast, but this is only because of my work schedule. I really have no set eating schedule on the weekends.

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2902 · January 03, 2012 at 05:44 PM

Paleo man ate whenever the hell paleo man was hungry and had food.

Eat whenever you want, let leptin sort itself out.

P.S. we sure would suck, from an evolution point of view, if eating at specific times of day made us fat or not fat.

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