Beat the Clock to Keep the Weight Off

Eating within a restricted time period could help with weight loss and maintenance

The next time you’re late for dinner, you could not only be upsetting your host, but also your own weight loss plans.

According to a new study from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, CA, eating within a certain number of hours, or time-restricted eating, could contribute to weight loss and weight maintenance.

"These days, most of the advice is, 'You have to change nutrition, you have to eat a healthy diet,'" said study author Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor at the institute, in a press release. "But many people don't have access to healthy diets. So the question is, without access to a healthy diet, can they still practice time-restricted feeding and reap some benefit?"

In this study, mice who ate within 9- to 12-hour periods gained less weight than mice who had access to food throughout the day, according to New York Times Magazine.

Looks like midnight snacking, no matter the diet, could be detrimental to your health after all.

The mice in this study received four different diets: high-sugar with low fat, high-fat with low sugar, high-fat and high-sugar and normal mice kibble. The mice all ate the same number of calories for 38 weeks.

Some of the mice were allowed to eat at any time during the day, while some of the time-restricted group earned breaks on the weekends, allowing them to eat whatever they wanted for a couple of days.

The mice whose diets were time-restricted gained less weight than those who had no restrictions — no matter the diet. On the other hand, the mice that ate at any time gained weight and even showed signs of obesity.

However, when some of these newly fattened mice were put into a time-restricted feeding group after their weight gain, they lost the weight they had gained, the New York Times reports.

"Time-restricted eating didn’t just prevent but also reversed obesity," Dr. Panda told The New York Times.

These researchers said they believe the circadian rhythm of the human body could be the reason for these results.

According to the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS), circadian rhythms are the 24-hour clock that our bodies’ functions run on. Circadian rhythms affect sleep, hormone release, body temperature and metabolic functions. Disrupting these natural rhythms and our body’s internal clocks could result in a higher chance of diabetes, obesity, depression, seasonal affective disorder and bipolar disorder.

According to a three-year study from the Yale School of Medicine in 2013, the times at which we chow down can greatly affect our internal body clocks. For this study, researchers fed mice at times during the day that complemented their sleep cycles, and as a result, their bodies functioned optimally.

Eating at times when you usually sleep can upset your circadian rhythms, which could have a negative affect on your health, according to the authors of the Yale study.

"Meal times have more effect on circadian rhythm than dark and light cycles," Dr. Panda told The New York Times.

Although the current study only involved mice, the results could be applied to humans, Dr. Panda said.

This study was published Dec. 2 in the journal Cell Metabolism.

The National Institutes of Health, the Glenn Center for Aging, the American Diabetes Association, the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, the Philippe Foundation Inc., and an AASLD Liver Scholar Award funded this research. Dr. Panda and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.