Scientists have proven once-and-for-all it's easier to lose weight if you eat breakfast and avoid late-night snacks.
Subjects in the US study had lunch and dinner at the same times every day - 12:30pm and 5:45pm - but half had their third meal at 10pm, and the others at a more traditional breakfast time - 8am.
They all ate the same amount of food containing the same number of calories, and the overnight fast was the same for both - just over 14 hours.
"The daily timing of nutrient availability, coupled with clock/sleep control of metabolism, flipped a switch in the subjects' fat/carbohydrate preference such that the late-evening snack session resulted in less fat burned when compared to the breakfast session," the Vanderbilt University scientists said.,
"The timing of meals during the day/night cycle therefore affects the extent to which ingested food is used versus stored."
This study was conducted on middle-aged and older people. Previous research which failed to find much, if any, difference between late-night and early-morning eating was conducted on healthy young people, and only for a single day. This study looked at changes over two separate 56-hours sessions.
"The end result of [eating late] will be enhanced lipid storage, which over time will lead to increased adiposity," the scientists said (lipids are fats, and adiposity means being severely overweight or obese).
"Therefore, in older adults who are potentially at risk for metabolic disorders, avoiding snacking after the evening meal can... potentially improve metabolic outcomes."
The research was published in journal PLOS Biology.