Research recently published in the journal Cell Metabolism has confirmed that late night snacks subvert the best intentions in weight loss, all wishful thinking and denial aside. Lead researcher, Satchidatnanda Panda, Ph.D. of the Salk Institute of Biological Studies explains that weight gain or loss is related to when a person eats as much as when they it. The good news is, tests showed that eating the same number of calories within a time-restricted window aids weight loss and overall health as opposed to clandestine midnight refrigerator raids.
Following up on an earlier study in 2012, the Salk Institute research team divided 400 rats into test groups, each receiving a different type of diet. Some groups received a fructose only diet while others received a mixture of fructose, fat and high fat although the overall calorie intake remained the same. The availability of food varied from group to group as well with some being allowed to graze at will for 15 hours per day and others being restricted to nine to 12 hours per day. They found that the time-restricted eaters gained less weight, even if they were on a high fat diet, than the unrestricted group.
As a matter of fact, in mice with calorie intake restricted to nine hours per day, even though they were on a high fat diet, weight gain amounted to 26 percent of original body weight as opposed to 65 percent for those with no time restrictions. For the mice with a regular diet, the difference in weight gain between the time-assigned groups was nominal although time restrictions on eating still produced a leaner animal. Dr. Panda explains that this shows that diets are unnecessary since the nutritional content of the mice’s diet had little effect on weight fluctuations as long as they had a daily fast period of 12 hours or more.
Although other research has shown the benefits of time-restricted diets, the most recent Salk study confirmed a link not only between fewer eating hours and weight but also with other related risk factors such as inflammation, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol, regardless of the nutritional content of the diet. However, more than just preventing health issues, the scientists found that periodic daily fasting, not only expedited weight loss, but lowered risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, cancer, high cholesterol and inflammation.
The practical implications of the study are that people can consume those unhealthy tidbits generally associated with late night snacks without subverting their best weight loss intentions. They just need to eat them during the daytime window and leave several hours between dinner and bedtime. However, the research time also found that weekend binges, did not hurt the overall goal of losing weight and improving health meaning that the dieter’s ever popular “cheat” days will not irrevocably ruin a weight loss plan. Further research with human subjects will confirm that the weight loss and health principles demonstrated in the mice population are transferable to humans. Scientists are confident that time restricted eating will bring about similar health results.
Panda explains that contrary to popular opinion, weight is more than people exercising away more calories than they consume because meal timing does make a big difference. Panda described the timing aspect of eating and weight loss, saying that sometimes a person’s system absorbs more energy or the liver burns more fat. Therefore the director of the Center for Circadian and Sleep Medicine at Northwestern University, Dr. Phyllis Zee, said that a person’s inner circadian clock adjusts for digestion and other systems, in addition to sleep times, possibly to recharge the metabolism during sleep, the way it does the brain.
As with any diet or health plan, the best success comes from making it a disciplined lifestyle habit rather than subverting the health mission with late night snacks. Panda confirms that moving to a regular alternating eating and fasting schedule is merely aligning personal habits with the body’s natural design to move weight loss from good intentions to actual practice. More research needs to be done to fully understand the connection between time-restricted eating, the digestive cycle and the prevention or reversal of weight-related health issues. In the meantime, however, dieters can rejoice that researchers are not asking them to give up all their favorite high calorie treats but only move them to earlier in the day when their metabolic cycle is at full steam turning the food into energy rather than letting it sit idle while they relax in the evening and nighttime hours.
by Tamara Christine Van Hooser
Image courtesy of Pete Markham – Flickr License