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Can eating earlier help you lose weight?

Do the calories you consume earlier in the day cause you to put on less weight than those you consume later on? Researchers from Boston and Spain gave 420 overweight Spaniards a Mediterranean-style eating plan — based on fresh produce, legumes, fish, and whole grains — to help them lose weight. After 20 weeks, they found that those who ate their biggest meal earlier in the day, which was lunch before 3 p.m., lost about 25 percent more weight than those who ate it later, according to the study in the International Journal of Obesity last week.

While the amount of calories consumed and burned throughout the day didn’t differ significantly among the early and late eaters, the early eaters lost 22 pounds compared with 16.5 pounds for the late eaters.

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“It was really the timing of lunch that was the main factor that determined how successful dieters were,” said study coauthor Frank Scheer, director of the medical chronobiology program at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Skipping breakfast or eating a late dinner didn’t seem to make a difference in the amount of pounds lost.

Whether these findings apply to American-style eating habits with a light breakfast and lunch followed by a hearty dinner and late-night snacking remains unknown, Scheer said, though it may be a wise move to aim for an earlier dinner and to skip the before-bed munch fest.

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