When you're trying to lose weight, it's not just what you eat and how you exercise that's important. When you eat and work out could make a surprising difference to the scales, too.
See also: Four ways to lose weight while you sleep
Make lunch your main meal
Experts used to suggest that spreading your food intake evenly throughout the day was the best way to keep your weight in check. But according to recent research, eating the majority of your calories at a single meal – lunch – is the best way to drop the pounds.
A 2016 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed the weight loss efforts of 80 overweight and obese women. Half of the group ate most of the daily calories at lunch, and the rest made dinner their biggest meal.
After three months, the women who ate big lunches not only lost more weight (13 pounds compared to 10 pounds on average), they also had lower blood-sugar levels.
Making lunch your largest meal of the day has several advantages. Not only does it give you more time to burn off the calories, it helps reduce the desire to snack during the afternoon.
So how does it work out in reality? If you're following a 1,400-calorie diet, you might eat 600 calories for lunch and then have the rest divided up between breakfast (400 calories), and dinner (400 calories).
Don't be tempted to skip breakfast! Several studies have found that people who eat breakfast lose more weight, and are more likely to keep it off.
Exercise on an empty stomach
There's also a best time to exercise if you want to lose weight, say experts. And that's early in the morning, before you eat.
A 2010 study from Belgium found that men who exercised on an empty stomach burnt more calories than those who worked out after eating breakfast, or later on. Not only does exercising first thing help to rev up your metabolism and boost your energy levels, it helps you burn more calories throughout the day, even when you're sitting on the sofa.
In a separate study, researchers asked two groups of men to run on treadmills until they burned 400 calories. One group ate a 400-calorie bowl of porridge before they hit the treadmill, and the other ran on an empty stomach.
While both groups burned fat, the men who "ran on empty" burned more fat than those who enjoyed a bowl of oatmeal before lacing up their trainers.
And to really torch fat...
If you really want to shift those pounds, exercise in the morning on an empty stomach and then eat a modest, high-protein breakfast before 9.45am.
A 2015 study published in Obesity found that people who ate a high-protein breakfast between 6:00-9.45am were less likely to put on weight and experienced less hunger compared to those who ate after 10am.
So there you have it – exercise first thing, eat a high-protein breakfast (around 400 calories) before 9.45am and make lunch your biggest meal of the day.