New Research Says That Irregular Meal Times Could Be Messing with Your Metabolism

Rachel Krause
Getty Images

Getty Images

I can’t think of a single day in my adult life that consisted of three solid meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you know the ones—eaten at regular intervals. My unique weekday schedule goes more like this: a very large coffee or two in the morning, a hurried spoonful of peanut butter or some fruit from the limited office food supply around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and a few glasses of wine served with carb-heavy takeout (Thai noodles? Basmati rice? A burrito? So many choices!) around 8:30 p.m., because at that point I’m starving.

All bets are off on the weekend—three slices of pizza at 2 am after drinking, ice cream-covered waffles in the morning because I’m hungover, a few tacos and a margarita at noon because I went for a bike ride and just happened to end up at the Mexican restaurant. Anything goes! All of this is punctuated by my whining about how I can’t seem to lose weight. Many of my peers echo the same statement—our bizarre eating habits just aren’t working out for us. And, unsurprisingly, science agrees.

Two sets of research recently published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society have linked irregular meal timing with higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, unstable blood-sugar levels, and a slowed metabolism when compared with people who eat the same number of meals at the same times of day every day. Womp.

MORE: 5 Carbs You Don’t Have to Feel Guilty About Eating

Garda Pot, PhD, a visiting lecturer in the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London who worked on both papers, told Health, “We found that adults consuming calories during regular meals—at similar times from one day to [the] next—were less obese than people who have irregular meals, despite consuming more calories overall.… Eating inconsistently may affect our internal body clock.”

Because the studies are tied to an emerging field of science called chrononutrition, in which researchers explore the link between metabolism and circadian rhythms, there’s not enough research yet to back the exact significance of varied meal times—or determine the true best times to eat—but Pot says, “It would be of great interest to fully understand how much impact disruptions in our circadian rhythms could have on [our] obesity risk.”

More info is on the way, but in the meantime, maybe I’ll reconsider next time I start to feel like a stop at the 24-hour deli for a Philly cheese steak is a matter of life or death on the walk home from the bar.

MORE: 10 Healthy Snacks That Clock in at 100 Calories or Less