So the findings show a "potential connection between going too long between meals and weight gain," said Diekman, who was not involved in the study. "But given the study design, more studies are needed to determine if there is a cause-and-effect connection."
The problem is that people who hold off on lunch may differ from other dieters in many ways -- including ways that could hinder their weight loss.
Scheer's team did account for some of those possibilities. They found that the early- and late-lunch groups ate a similar number of calories and burned a similar amount (based on their reported activity levels). The two groups also averaged about the same amount of sleep each night, which is important because sleep loss has been linked to a higher risk of obesity and less weight-loss success.
Still, that's not enough to prove the late lunch caused the slower weight loss, Scheer and Diekman pointed out.
The findings are based on 420 overweight and obese Spanish adults who took part in a five-month weight-loss program. They were encouraged to follow a traditional Mediterranean diet, which includes plenty of fish, olive oil, vegetables and whole grains, but goes light on red meat and butter.
They got no advice, however, on the timing of their meals.
In the end, the half of the group that usually ate lunch after 3 p.m. lost an average of 17 pounds. That compared with 22 pounds in the early-lunch group.
As is typical in Spain, lunch was the biggest meal of the day. The dieters downed 40 percent of their daily calories at lunchtime, on average -- whether they ate early or late.
In contrast to the lunch findings, there was no evidence that the timing of people's breakfast or dinner affected their weight loss. (Half of the group ate their dinner after 9:30 p.m.)
So in a culture where the biggest meal of the day is dinner, would it matter
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