The large midday meal that has been a tradition among Europeans is a pretty good weight loss strategy as it turns out. A recent study offers new evidence for the idea that for dieters, when you eat is as important as what you eat. Perhaps even more important.

Earlier studies on mice suggested that because hormones fluctuate throughout the day, the timing of meals is as important a factor for successful weight loss as any. But findings for rodents don’t always translate to people. So the current research, arriving at similar results in human participants, comes as welcome news.

Eating your big meal earlier rather than later could, over time, have a significant effect on your waistline.

The researchers followed 420 people who were overweight over a 20-week period during which they were asked to stick to a weight loss regimen. They participants self-identified as early- or late-eaters, meaning that they usually ate their big meal of the day before or after 3 p.m., respectively. The study took place in Spain, where the largest meal of the day is typically the midday meal, in which about 40% of a person’s daily calories are consumed.

The late-day eaters lost significantly less weight than early-eaters, and their rate of weight loss was slower. They also scored worse on insulin sensitivity, which is a known risk factor for type 2 diabetes. The size of the other meals of the day did not have an effect on weight loss, but the late-eaters tended to eat less at breakfast or not at all. This finding is in line with other studies that have shown that people who skip breakfast tend to be heavier, since they may be “making up for it” in other ways.

The researchers didn’t find any significant differences between the early- and late-eaters’ calorie consumption, how many calories they burned during exercise, the hormones that govern appetite and fullness (ghrelin and leptin), or how much they slept. All of this suggests that the timing of our meals itself plays a unique role in weight loss.

Lead author of the study, Marta Garaulet, said in a news release that weight loss strategies should especially highlight “not only the caloric intake and macronutrient distribution, as it is classically done, but also the timing of food." So the next time you decide to skip breakfast or lunch in favor of a bigger meal later in the day, you may do well to rethink that decision. Eating your big meal earlier rather than later could, over time, have a significant effect on your waistline.

The study was carried out by researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH), the University of Murcia and Tufts University. It is published in the International Journal of Obesity.