It's been said breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but a new study has found the time you eat doesn't matter when it comes to weight loss.
University of Aberdeen researchers set out to tackle myths about how timing influences body weight or health. In a key finding, they reported that the time you eat the largest meal of the day doesn't affect metabolism - the rate your body burns calories - so eating a hearty breakfast doesn't burn more calories in and of itself.
However, scientists noted that participants who ate bigger breakfasts felt more in control of their appetites, which could lead to weight loss.
"There are a lot of myths surrounding the timing of eating and how it might influence either body weight or health," said senior author Professor Alexandra Johnstone, a researcher at the University of Aberdeen.
"This has been driven largely by the circadian rhythm field. But we in the nutrition field have wondered how this could be possible. Where would the energy go? We decided to take a closer look at how time of day interacts with metabolism."
Scientists recruited 30 healthy people who were overweight or obese to have their diets controlled and their metabolisms measured over a period of time.
Participants were randomly assigned to eat either more food in the morning or evening for four weeks. After a one week break, they followed the opposite eating pattern for four weeks.
Their total weight loss and calorie burn were the same for the morning-loaded and evening-loaded diets. The subjects lost an average of just over 3kg (about seven pounds) during each of the four-week periods.
Participants reported their appetites were better controlled on the days they ate a bigger breakfast and that they felt satiated throughout the rest of the day.
Prof Johnstone noted: "This could be quite useful in the real-world environment, versus in the research setting that we were working in."
"One thing that's important to note is that when it comes to timing and dieting, there is not likely going to be one diet that fits all," she concluded. "Figuring this out is going to be the future of diet studies, but it's something that's very difficult to measure."
The Scots study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism on September 9.
Don't miss the latest news from around Scotland and beyond - sign up to our daily newsletter here .