When You Eat, Just as Important as What You Eat, Study Says

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A study suggests that it’s when you eat – not what you eat – that could help shed weight. Researchers at the University of Alabama in Birmingham observed 22 patients (11 male and 11 female) who were all overweight eat the same amount of calories from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. or from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“This is actually a very different radical approach in some ways to maintaining body weight and losing bodyweight,” Fran Broyles, director of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Nutrition for Swedish Medical Group told King5.com.

The participants had the exact same diet, but just ate at different times. Broyles said the Swedish Medical Group advises patients to eat balanced meals throughout the day while limiting calorie intake to lose weight.

She said most people spend an average of 16 hours a day eating, and more research needs to be done to support the study. This study marks the first time the concept has been conducted on humans instead of animal subjects. Research found that time of day, instead of calories consumed, helped rats lose weight as well.

A study on mice conducted by researchers in Israel and Germany and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that there could be optimal times when the body is most efficient at burning sugars. The study suggests that the mitochondria, tiny power centers responsible for burning nutrients in our cells, are controlled by a biological clock.

“In a sense it’s like a daily calendar, telling the body what to expect, so it can prepare for the future and operate optimally,” said study leader Gad Asher, who heads a lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel. “The outcome depends not only on what you eat but also on when you eat it. If we could be more aware of the timing of our cellular activities, we might be able to take advantage of various nutrients in a healthier way.”

A wide range of studies have been conducted on a variety of different eating habits, from what we eat, when we eat, what meals are best skipped, what meals not to skip, and so on. To understand more about our eating habits, health professionals at UAB recommend keeping a food journal.

A food journal can help a person understand eating habits – but  it also has an accountability aspect. Date and time, what foods are eaten and how much, the brand of food and any notes about the food are all recommended as different things to record.

Food journals can also help weed out any mindless eating and raise food habit awareness that could be linked to weight loss. Journaling may also help you realize when you are apt to eat the most, according to UAB’s website.

Knowing when to eat can benefit the body in more ways than one, Broyles said.

“If you limit to say eight hours and you fast for 16, you actually get better utilization of the calories you eat,” she said. “You actually burn more fat, and you burn more protein, you have less hunger ultimately, which is an interesting issue, and you lose weight.”

Tori Linville

Tori Linville is a freelance writer and editor from Clarksville, Tennessee. When she isn’t writing or teaching, she’s faithfully watching her alma mater, the University of Alabama, dominate the football field.