What 'Saving' Calories Really Does To Your Body

As you get ready for work, you feel your stomach grumbling a bit. To settle your appetite, you might grab a banana as you head out the door. You'd love to join your colleagues for lunch, but you're already anticipating an indulgent dinner with friends. To avoid going overboard with your daily calories, you settle for a salad for lunch so you can save calories for a heavier dinner.

This concept of saving or banking calories might sound like a good idea to keep your weight on track. However, skipping or skimping on meals so you can feast later will have you missing out on key nutrients you need throughout your day to fuel not only your body but also your brain. You're also more likely to eat that much more during your evening meal, and some of that food might not be very healthy. It also sets you up on a starve-binge pattern that could lead to disordered eating (per Muscle & Strength). Additionally, eating those heavy meals later in the evening can disrupt your circadian rhythm and slow your metabolism, which will work against you if your goal is to prevent weight gain.

Your body needs food when you're active during the day

According to a 2019 article in the Journal of Biological Rhythms, your body's natural clock factors into your sleep cycle, hormone release, and heart function. Your body also prefers food at certain times to give you energy for the day. When you eat food closer to the times your body intends to rest, this disrupts your body's circadian rhythm and metabolism. Eating your meals as your melatonin levels begin to rise is linked to higher body fat. Melatonin can limit the release of insulin in your system, so eating too late at night and too early in the morning can have a larger effect on your blood sugar.

On the other hand, eating according to your body's circadian rhythms allows your body to efficiently use the nutrients for energy. Eating larger meals earlier in the day can be a healthier practice. It's also healthier to eat your meals at the same time every day and within a 12-hour window.

A 2021 article in Current Biology compared two eating schedules over eight weeks: a daytime schedule with meals limited to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. and a delayed schedule with meals limited to 12 p.m. to 11 p.m. The results showed that the daytime eating schedule led to weight loss and improvements in energy metabolism and insulin resistance compared to the delayed eating schedule.

You can still indulge every once in a while

While saving calories might sound logical, your body doesn't work in the same way as your bank account, according to Nutrition IQ. Rather than eating fewer calories earlier in the day so you can binge later, eat breakfast and lunch as you normally would. When it's time for your dinner party or indulgent meal, choose foods that typically wouldn't be on your plate any ordinary day. In other words, Grandma's apple cobbler might be a favorite for you to enjoy, while fried chicken is something you can get any time. Eat your food slowly and mindfully so you truly enjoy what you're eating. It's also a good idea to check in with your hunger and stop when you're full. If the baked brie bites are too tempting for you, move away from them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests eating a small snack at your normal dinner time if you know you'll be eating later than usual. If you love dessert, maybe hold off on some of the usual carbs during dinner. Be sure to load up your plate with vegetables to give you healthy vitamins, minerals, and fiber, and remember to stay active to burn off some of those extra calories.