Weight loss may be as simple as strategically timing your eating.(Photo by Getty Images)
When you gotta stay up late — for work, studying, or even online shopping — you know what always makes it better?
A midnight snack, that’s what.
However, according to a new study published today in the journal Cell Metabolism, you could be doing your health a big favor if you can hold off on that 11pm bag of yogurt-covered pretzels. In doing so, you might ward off conditions like high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.
Most dieting advice today focuses on what to eat, not when (and when not) to eat. With that in mind, researchers from the Salt Institute put 400 mice of different sizes, ranging from normal weight to obese, on diets of various types, lengths and time restrictions. They also had a control group of mice, who were allowed to feed whenever they so desired.
By the end of the study, the scientists discovered that no matter the weight of the mouse, the type of regimen they were on, or the length of their diets, the mice saw benefits when they chowed to the tune of a time restriction — say, within a nine, 10, or 12-hour window — as opposed to noshing at will.
The obese mice saw some unique benefits. Ones that had been allowed an eat-whenever, high-fat diet their whole lives were put on the nine-hour time restricted diet and immediately lost five percent of their body weight — despite eating the same number of calories they always had. This approach also insulated them against further weight gain over the course of the 38-week study.
The time-restricted mice were fed either diets high in fat, high in fat and sucrose, or high in fructose, and were fed the same amount of calories as their controls. As long as they ate within their specific timeframe and fasted overnight, the results held and they stayed lean. And we mean seriously lean. These time-abiding mice also changed their body composition, developing more lean muscle mass than their free-eating counterparts.
Interestingly, the researchers also allowed some of the time-restricted mice to go crazy on weekends and eat whenever they felt like it, yet the results stayed consistent: they were still lean and mean. This may indicate that the time-restricted approach is pretty forgiving, and can withstand the need for natural wiggle room — like, for instance, upcoming NYE parties where apps will be passed well after the ball drops.
So, why do time restrictions seem to work so well? Study author Satchidananda Panda, Ph.D, an associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salt Institute, says some of the benefits appear to be the result of a change in gut microbes. “We found that time-restricted framework sustains the body’s circadian clock, which in turn, appropriately times the utilization of sugar, fat and cholesterol in different parts of the body,” he tells Yahoo Health. “Daily fasting of 12 to 15 hours also allows the gut, liver and muscle to repair and rejuvenate by breaking down harmful chemicals and metabolic byproducts.”
Obviously, more research is needed to figure out the exact metabolic mechanisms in play here, and if the results will translate from the lab to the real world. (We’re not mice, after all.)
But for now, the researchers believe this may be a step toward better understanding how we develop conditions like diabetes. And for us humans, this study may just mean there’s some logic to that whole “don’t eat past 7 p.m.” thing.
“Overall, the results offer a molecular explanation for the old saying about overnight fasting,” Panda says.
You know, except maybe on weekends when you utilize that wiggle room — and that bag of yogurt-covered pretzels really calls.
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