Research verifies what I’ve been telling clients and readers for decades: To hit your fat loss goals and maintain that success, timing is everything.
Put another way, what you eat is just as important as when you eat. The timing of your meals can either set you up to burn fat or store it away.
When you time your meals smartly, you’ll have a nice, steady release of blood sugar to your brain. Your insulin levels stay down, so you can access stored fat for fuel. You feel energized and ready to tackle whatever the day throws at you.
After working with thousands of clients, I’ve learned that timing goes beyond just when you eat. How you move, hydrate, sleep, and stop eating also dramatically impact your body’s ability to burn fat.
When you combine these 5 timing strategies with the Virgin Diet or Sugar Impact Diet, you’ve created the perfect formula to shift fat loss favorably in your direction.
An Update on Timing Strategies
I constantly stay on top of the latest science, and modify information accordingly. Over the last few years, the benefits of intermittent fasting have expanded.
If you've followed me for a while, you know that I used to recommend eating within an hour of waking up. I've changed that recommendation, based on intermittent fasting research: I now want you to eat breakfast two to three hours after waking to optimize your fasting window.
Here's how that might look: you have loaded smoothie by 9 or 10 a.m. Then, you'll have meals every 3 – 4 hours to steady blood sugar levels and manage hunger and cravings. (I found this more effective than eating every 4 – 6 hours.)
You'll stop eating at least three hours (and preferably longer) before bedtime. Doing this creates a simple, effective 12 – 14-hour overnight fast that delivers weight loss and so many other benefits.
See timing strategy #5 to see how that eating plan will look.
Timing Strategy #1: How You Eat
My golden rule of meal timing is to eat every 3 – 4 hours. When you eat by the plate, you maintain steady blood sugar levels. You feel great and energized.
Researchers made those same conclusions about how meal timing can impact fat loss. They found that:
- Breakfast skipping is linked with obesity.
- For some people, eating a lunch late (after 3 p.m.) can hinder weight loss and even gut health.
- For others who eat at night (2 hours before sleep), the probability of being obese increases a whopping 5 times!
I want you to space meals 3- 4 hours apart. Even if you’re doing intermittent fasting, you can fit in 3 solid meals within your eating time period.
Overall, you should be able to go around 4 hours without being hungry. If you eat and 2 hours later you’re hungry, you may be a sugar burner. If that’s the case, the Sugar Impact Diet will help you transition into a fat burner.
Take this quick quiz to find out whether you’re a fat burner or a sugar burner.
If you have to snack, choose something healthy like a Fiber Bar. Ideally, I’d like you to focus on 3 meals, properly spaced throughout the day. Ultimately, you’ll feel better, look better, and lose weight faster.
There are exceptions to this rule, including athletes and people with reactive hypoglycemia or another medical condition that requires you to eat more frequently. For fast fat loss, though, almost everyone does better eating every 3 – 4 hours.
Timing Strategy #2: How You Hydrate
Overall, about 60% of an adult body is water. The brain and heart are about 73% water, the lungs are about 83% water, and your skin is about 64% water.
Every cell in your body depends on water as a building block. Sufficient water regulates body temperature, flushes out waste and toxins, lubricates joints, and so much more.
One study among elite soccer players found that even mild dehydration before a match can raise cortisol levels, creating added stress. Cortisol is a stress hormone, and one of the things it can do is cause you to store more fat around your waist.
So dehydration can block fat burning, undoing all the good you’re doing by eating right and exercising. Being dehydrated is also a risk factor for inflammation, which can further block fat cells from releasing and burning fat.
If you want to optimize fat loss, you’ll want to be drinking clean, filtered water throughout the day. When it comes to water timing, here’s how your day should look:
- When you get up: 16 ounces
- 30 to 60 minutes before each meal: 16 ounces
- During a meal: limit to 4 to 8 ounces
- Start drinking water again 60 minutes after each meal
- Before bed: 8 ounces (great for bedtime cravings!)
Your daily total should be about 64 ounces minimum. You need more water if you are in a hot climate, exercise heavily, or carry extra weight. How much water should you drink? Find out here.
One study found that combined with a lower-calorie diet, drinking 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before each meal led to greater weight loss in overweight or obese middle-aged and older adults.
That raises an important time: I want you to limit water intake about 30 minutes before each meal. You’ll start limiting fluids to no more than 8 ounces of water until an hour after the meal. That’s because having fluids with your food dilutes your stomach acid.
Keep a water bottle with you to continue to drink between meals so you drink enough. If drinking clear water feels challenging, add a little bit of lemon or lime to flavor things up.
Don’t like drinking water? I’ve got some cool hacks to make it easier in this podcast.
Timing Strategy #3: Timing and How You Sleep
Sleep is the most important thing you can do for your overall health. I’ve found that many times, poor sleep becomes the biggest obstacle for fast, lasting fat loss.
I want you to get at least 7 hours (and preferably, more like 9 hours) of solid, uninterrupted sleep every night.
When I say solid, uninterrupted hours, I mean that you’re getting plenty of deep, restorative sleep. You’re not getting up to the bathroom or waking up in the middle of the night worried about that work deadline.
One study put overweight or obese adults on either a caloric-restricted plan alone or a calorie-restricted plan plus sleep restriction. Even though they lost weight, researchers found that even an hour of sleep restriction for 5 nights every week led to less fat loss. (Ultimately, fat loss is more important than weight loss.)
Overall, people who regularly sleep less than 7 hours per night are more likely to have higher average body mass indexes (BMIs) and develop obesity compared to those who sleep more.
Hormone shifts are partly responsible here. Subpar sleep increases levels of ghrelin, your hunger hormone, while lowering leptin, your put-the-brakes-on-eating hormone. Sleep restriction can also increase inflammatory markers and decrease insulin sensitivity.
To get great sleep, you want to create a consistent routine. If you’re tossing, waking up in the middle of the night, or otherwise struggling with sleep, Sleep Candy™ is my trusty, favorite formula to safely fall and stay asleep.
For more cool strategies to dial up your sleep quality and quantity, check out this podcast.
Timing Strategy #4: How You Move
When I worked one-on-one with fitness clients, I quickly learned that time is a huge reason why people can’t fit in a workout. Burst exercise or high-intensity interval training (HIIT) blows the time excuse out of the water.
With burst exercise, you couple short, intense bursts of 30 to 60 seconds with 1 to 2 minutes of active recovery. When I say active recovery, I mean moving at a low intensity that allows you to catch your breath and lower your heart rate.
Burst training isn’t just time-efficient. It’s one of the most efficient exercises you can do, period.
For fat loss, the more intense the exercise, the bigger metabolic cost after you are done. You burn more calories after exercise, especially calories from fat.
Research shows that high-intensity interval training may be more effective at reducing body fat compared with other types of exercise. There are many reasons why: HIIT significantly lowers insulin resistance, for one, and improves how your body utilizes fat.
Here’s how burst training looks:
- Warm up for three minutes
- Burst for 30-60 seconds
- Recover for 1-2 minutes (twice the time that you burst)
Repeat until you accumulate 4 – 8 minutes of high-intensity interval bursts.
If you can get to 8 minutes total, I am impressed. If you can get past that, you probably aren’t doing it hard enough. Remember that intensity is everything when it comes to burst-style training.
Timing Strategy #5: How You Stop Eating
Just as important as when and how you eat is when you stop eating. I want you to close up the kitchen about 3 hours before bedtime. And no, that does not mean you get to stay up later!
Lately, as intermittent fasting has garnered acclaim (and lots of science to back it up), I’ve been incorporating this into meal timing.
One comprehensive review about intermittent fasting for weight loss concluded that it works. More specifically, all 27 trials found that people lose 0.8% to 13% of their baseline weight.
You don’t need to go crazy here! Even a 12- to 14-hour fast can increase longevity and boost your ability to burn fat. Here’s how that might look:
- Dinner: 6 p.m.
- Close up the kitchen: 7 p.m. (or 3 or more hours before bedtime)
- Breakfast the following morning: 9 or 10 a.m. (or about 2 – 3 hours after waking, so you're creating an effective overnight fast)
- Then, you'll eat throughout the day every 3 – 4 hours
Eventually, I want you to step up that intermittent fasting to 16 hours or longer, at least a few times every week and preferably, daily. Learn more about how to find a fasting schedule that works for you here.
The Formula for Fast and Lasting Fat Loss
I hope you’re seeing how timing is critical for fat loss in so many different ways. All of these timing tricks I’ve discussed will help you lose fat and reach your goal weight.
I want to set you up for long-term success, too, so you maintain those results. One study looked at 50,660 American and Canadian adults. They found that for relatively healthy adults, the following strategies helped prevent long-term weight gain:
- Eating less frequently
- No snacking
- Eating breakfast
- Eating the largest meal in the morning
Do these strategies sound familiar? If you’re familiar with the Virgin Diet or Sugar Impact Diet, you know I use many of these same strategies for success.
You don’t need to do all of these things, but the more that you incorporate into your schedule, the more impressive your fat loss will be.