You Are When You Eat

Meal times affect obesity risk and how efficiently the body digests food

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If munching around the clock is your norm, you may be finding the numbers on the scale going up. But it's not how much you're eating. It's when you're eating it.

A recent study has found that the timing of meals and snacks could play a factor in how the body processes food, so eating outside our body's biologically appropriate times to eat might contribute to weight gain.

"Eat regular meals throughout the day."

Lead author Satchidananda Panda of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, led a study involving experiments with mice to see how the same diet, consumed at different times, impacted weight gain.

Panda's team fed two groups of mice a high fat diet and differed the two groups only in terms of when each one could eat.

One group was restricted to eating just eight hours a day while the other group could eat around the clock. The researchers found that both groups ate the same number of calories, but the mice restricted to eight hours for mealtimes showed fewer symptoms of metabolic diseases and lower risk for obesity.

In fact, the mice with only an eight-hour buffet showed some improvements in metabolic and physiological rhythms. They didn't gain as much weight as the all-you-can-eat-all-day-long mice, they had less liver damage, lower levels of inflammation, lower glucose intolerance and greater motor coordination.

Panda attributed the differences seen between the two groups to differences in the peak times of the mice's metabolic cycles.

If organs like the liver, intestines and certain muscles have prime times of efficiency, but a person eats during the more dormant time when those organs are essentially "asleep," then the organ works less efficiently.

Less efficiency means the body is not breaking down cholesterol, glucose and other substances people eat as it should be.

Panda compared the mismatch between eating patterns and people's internal organ clocks to the problems people experience with random sleeping behaviors.

Poor sleep during the night can mean sleepiness during the day - which means someone is working less efficiently. So it goes with organs. If a stomach is on break for its downtime, ramping up for an unexpected late night snack off its agenda might mean the snack isn't metabolized as well as it should be.

The study appeared online May 17 in the journal Cell Metabolism. The research was funded by the Pew Scholars Program in Biomedical Sciences, the Sanofi Discovery Innovation Grant, The Anderson Foundation, The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Fellowship, the Blasker-Rose-Miah Fund of the San Diego Foundation and grants from the National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Research Resources.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 25, 2012
Last Updated:
August 15, 2012