Friday, May 18, 2012

To prevent gaining weight, timing is of the essence

People gain weight because they eat more than they should. Obesity and overweight are ever-increasing in incidence, and it is becoming pretty clear that being too heavy will cause severe health problems later on in life. Despite the existence of a wide variety of diets, losing weight is in essence pretty simple: use more energy than you take in. That means regular exercise and cutting down on fatty foods. A recent study from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies shows that not only is it important what you eat, but also when you eat. It can make the difference in becoming obese or not.

Experiments in mice were set-up so that one group had access to food all day long, while another one was restricted to being able to eat only during a time frame of eight hours each day. All mice were given a high-fat diet, and the scientists made sure the caloric intake in both groups was the same, meaning they got the same amount of energy. By doing that, the time frame was the only factor that differed between the two groups.

What they found is that mice on the restricted food intake were less affected by the high-fat diet, as shown by improved metabolism and less weight gain. Additionally, they were found to have less liver damage and inflammation, side-effects of obesity. The scientists attributed these effects to changes in physiological rhythms: the body possesses internal clocks that result in changes in organ function throughout the day. Most well-known is the internal clock that governs our sleep-wake cycle, but researchers have already discovered that there are many more clocks: every organ has one. That means, at some period during the day, an organ will function less efficiently, which means there will be a smaller uptake of energy from the ingested food, which is beneficial if you do not want to gain weight.
Gaining weight is caused by eating too much, but a mismatch between eating patterns and body clocks means weight gain can be explained by more than just the caloric value of the food alone. Because our feeding patterns have shifted in the last couple of decades, it may be worthwhile to restrict yourself in order to prevent weight gain. Future studies will have to show us what the ideal eating pattern is, but for now it is pretty clear that eating throughout the day is not beneficial for your weight and health.

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