But did you realise when you eat can have just as much an impact as what you eat?
And this is where the advice gets a bit fuzzy.
The numerous bodies of research are no less confusing.
According to one study, those who eat most of their calories in the evening hours, during a delayed lunchtime of approximately 4pm, may have poor blood sugar metabolism, which could lead to insulin resistance issues and weight gain.
Another study published in Pharmacological Research found that participants who ate more calories at breakfast experienced greater weight loss than those who ate the majority of their calories at dinner.
So how do we know what meals we should be eating at what time of the day?
“The food you eat is fuel for the things you want to do during the day,” explains Emma Brown (MSc) Nutritionist for calorie tracking App, Nutracheck.
“Some of our calories are used to keep us ticking over, so for vital functions such as our heart beating and breathing. All other calories are then needed to do ‘work’ such as moving around and exercising.”
So it makes sense that we should eat more calories earlier in the day to support activity, and less later when we’re more likely to be doing less.
“The old saying: ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper’, makes sense,” Emma adds.
The reason for this could be explained by our body’s circadian rhythms, which are controlled by our natural biological clock.
“As we all know, we tend to get sleepy at night and more awake during the day largely because of changes in daylight,” Emma explains.
“And it’s not just our sleeping patterns that are affected by daylight either: various metabolic processes and hormone levels alter throughout the day due to circadian rhythms too. These changes can affect how foods are metabolised in the body – so when and how much we eat could well impact how we use the energy,” she continues.
Therefore, eating more of our calories earlier in the day would seem to make sense.
That’s something Michela Vagnini, Nutritionist at Natures Plus agrees with although she suggests the best time to eat your biggest meal is in the middle of your day.
“As we are more active during the day, it would be good to have your larger meal around lunch time,” she says.
“Choosing a healthy breakfast with plenty of nutrient variety is a great way to start the day,” Emma advises.
“Towards the end of the day it is better to eat a larger meal in plenty of time to burn some of the calories off. Eating a large proportion of your daily intake of calories late at night will mean the energy will not be burned off effectively – and over a period of time this type of eating habit could lead to an increased chance of unused energy being stored as fat in the body.”
Michela Vagnini agrees. “At night it best if we choose lighter meals that are easier to digest as we are preparing for bedtime,” she explains. “Heavy meals at night could interfere with sleep quality and the restoring action of sleep. At night while we sleep our body should be focused on healing and repairing, not digesting food. That’s is why I recommend eating at least three hours before bed.”
Obviously though, this eat-light-earlier mantra won’t suit everyone, so we should make adjustments to better suit how you live.
“Tracking your calorie intake over the course of the day (however you choose to spread your calories) can help to stick to a calorie allowance that’s right for you,” Emma advises.
“So, in practical terms, aiming for a larger nutrient full breakfast that’s rich in fibre, protein and fruit/veg, then opting for a slightly smaller lunch and lighter dinner, could well aid weight loss and improve overall health.”
Emma says the main thing that people find difficult from a habitual point of is breaking the tradition of having their largest meal at the end of the day.
“Making it a gradual change over time could help, so try slowly adjusting the size of your meals. Also, eating a larger breakfast could mean you don’t feel you need to eat as much at dinner.”
That being said, the most important factor for overall weight control is total calorie intake over time.
“So if you’re aiming to lose weight, following a reduced calorie allowance across the week will help you achieve this over time, even if you can’t quite face the thought of having a smaller dinner!”
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