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Could Limiting Carbs To Dinner Be An Effective Strategy For Overweight Individuals?

The common recommendation by health and fitness experts on having carbs early in the day and then cutting them out at night may not be ideal for everyone after all.

New research has shown that perhaps the exact opposite may be a better option, especially for those who are significantly overweight.

The research was conducted at the Institute of Biochemistry, Food Science, and Nutrition at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and published in both the Journal of Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases and the Obesity Journal.

In today’s post we’ll dig into what the researchers found and I’ll provide some final thoughts.

More after the jump…

For the study, researchers randomly assigned 78 individuals to either the experimental diet (carbs at dinner), or a control weight loss diet (carbs throughout the day).

The study lasted six months and 63 subjects finished in compliance.

What the researchers looked at primarily were three hormones that influence appetite, hunger, and metabolism.

  • Leptin
  • Grehlin
  • Adiponectin

Leptin is regarded as the “satiety” hormone which triggers a sense of fullness when functioning properly. Obese individuals typically have enough leptin, the problem is there’s often a resistance issue with the cell receptors. This is much like insulin resistance and the two are thought to be connected. Leptin levels in the blood are typically low during the day and elevated at night.

Ghrelin is regarded as the “hunger” hormone which triggers appetite when blood sugar levels become low. Ghrelin levels in the blood are usually higher during the day and lower at night.

Adiponectin is a protein hormone involved in a number of metabolic functions including glucose regulation and fatty acid oxidation. Levels of adiponectin are inversely correlated with body fat percentage in adults. In essence, the more body fat one has, the lower their adiponectin levels.

This hormone plays a large role in the link between obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Levels of adiponectin in obese individuals typically have a low, flat curve.

What the researchers found in obese subjects who limited carbs to dinner…

Across the board, researchers found favorable changes to the above hormonal balances when subjects limited carbs to dinner.

Leptin’s secretion curve elevated during the day and lowered at night. This meant subjects felt fuller during the day.

Ghrelin’s secretion curve lowered during the day, peaking only in the evening hours. This meant hunger levels stabilized during the day and increased mainly at night.

Adiponectin’s secretion curve was elevated over pre-testing levels. This meant more adiponectin was in the bloodstream, certainly a favorable change for obese individuals.

On top of all the above changes, the subjects who limited carbs to dinner showed the following compared to the control group:

  • More weight loss
  • More abdominal circumference loss
  • More body fat loss
  • Lower blood sugar and lipid levels
  • Lower inflammatory markers

My comments regarding the study…

Let’s just say I’m not all that surprised by the findings of this latest study. While there is certainly more work to be done in order to fully understand the mechanisms that led to the improved results, it’s intriguing to say the least.

The reason I say it’s not all that surprising is because of the impressive results many individuals are seeing on intermittent fasting type diets. While this study didn’t use intermittent fasting, there are several similarities, primarily with the limiting of starch carbohydrates to meals at night.

There’s much controversy surrounding intermittent fasting strategies because, well it’s challenging a lot of the typical diet advice that health and fitness experts have been providing for years.

You know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, that you have to eat 4-6 small meals a day in order to boost metabolism, etc, etc.

I think a lot of this is individual specific and there’s no discrediting the benefits of smaller, more frequent meals in stabilizing blood sugar and helping people lose weight. However, we can’t turn a blind eye to what’s being found in nutrition strategies that take a different approach.

What works well for one individual may not work so hot for someone else. We have to keep this in mind and not become too rigid in our beliefs. Think about this rationally for a second.

Just because a nutrition and diet strategy that a bodybuilder may follow works for someone who needs to lose 20 pounds or so, doesn’t mean it’s automatically the most optimal approach for someone who’s significantly overweight.

Hormonal and metabolic differences have to be factored into the equation. There’s no denying that many overweight individuals struggle on the 4-6 small meals per day approach with a mix of carbs, proteins, and fats at each one.

At the root of obesity and metabolic syndrome is a complex series of hormonal and chemical imbalances that influence everything from appetite, fatty acid oxidation, blood glucose regulation, and other factors.

In short, we’re talking about imbalances and irregularities at the cellular level. In order to see long-term, lasting weight loss, these imbalances need to be corrected. No pill, shot, quick-fix, or fad diet will ever be the solution.

Obviously, we’re talking about lifestyle change with diet and exercise. Keep in mind however, that the diet and nutrition strategy used to facilitate correction at the cellular level may likely change over time.

In other words, overweight individuals may find the way they eat alter as they get closer to their ideal body weight and experience metabolic changes.

In short, each person has to find what works for them. As a fitness professional and fat loss expert who consults with weight loss clients, I thinks it’s imperative to encourage experimentation with diet strategies.

I’ve been in the game long enough to see that not everyone responds the same to a particular diet approach. Friends and family members are often quick to say “you need to do this and that,” when in reality each individual should be open to experimentation and following their own instincts.

What worked for Aunt Susie may not necessarily work for you. Don’t get overly caught up in what you hear in advice from those who are far from experts, or what you might read in some magazine.

What you eat is certainly important. No matter the nutrition strategy used, whole, natural foods need to be at the foundation. Whether the diet is higher or lower in carbs, protein, and fat, will depend on bioindividuality. So to will be when you eat, how much, and how frequently.

I’ll say this…if you’re currently struggling to see results with a specific diet strategy, don’t hesitate to consider changing course. Be open to experimenting with intermittent fasting, carbs at night, and other approaches.

I’m especially intrigued with intermittent fasting strategies and plan on writing much more about this subject in the future. It’s a hot topic right now amongst fat loss experts and the success of many individuals who have employed it can’t be denied.

Controversy and debate over “which diet is best” will probably never go away. Don’t get bogged down in trying to find “evidence” for which one is the winner. Instead, look to find which method is the “winner” for you at any given point in time.

On a final note in regards to recommendations. Use some sound judgment if you’re going to try the “carbs at dinner” approach. The amount and type is going to make a difference. This isn’t a green light to starve yourself all day and then go pound down a big plate of pasta at night. You can already guess how that will work.

Think about incorporating starch carbohydrates like potatoes, sweet potatoes, rice, quinoa, couscous, and the like. You may want to minimize or avoid wheat products, bread, pasta, and other processed starches.

Meals and snacks prior in the day would best consist of lean proteins, vegetables, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and fruits. Eat when you’re hungry, and only enough until you’re no longer hungry, not stuffed full. There is a big difference.

While the researchers didn’t provide much specifics regarding the diet used in the study, my recommendation if you’re going to try this approach is light eating of easy to assimilate foods during the day and a somewhat larger meal with starch carbohydrates included at night.


S. Sofer, A. Eliraz, S. Kaplan, H. Voet, G. Fink, T. Kima, Z. Madar. Changes in daily leptin, ghrelin and adiponectin profiles following a diet with carbohydrates eaten at dinner in obese subjects. Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.numecd.2012.04.008

Sigal Sofer, Abraham Eliraz, Sara Kaplan, Hillary Voet, Gershon Fink, Tzadok Kima, Zecharia Madar. Greater Weight Loss and Hormonal Changes After 6 Months Diet With Carbohydrates Eaten Mostly at Dinner. Obesity, 2011; 19 (10): 2006 DOI: 10.1038/oby.2011.48

Shane Doll is a certified personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios. If you’re looking for a personal trainer in Charleston, you can receive a no-obligations personal training trial and consultation without risking a dime. Over 1000 Charleston area residents have transformed their bodies following our unique burst training workouts and simplified nutrition programs. Experience the Shaping Concepts difference today.


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Category: Nutrition.