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Eating time is crucial to maintain a healthy weight

By Milton Bertrand

STEM Advocate and Fellow Geazler

When it comes to weight gain and loss, an important factor that is often neglected is when one eats. It is predominantly known that what one eats, how much one consumes and often the amount of exercise has a lot to do with weight gain or loss. However, in a new research published February 27, 2020 in the open-access journal PLOS Biology, it's not the number of calories that one eats rather when one eats them. Eating time will determine how well one burns these calories. The research was conducted by Kevin Kelly, Owen McGuinness, Carl Johnson and colleagues of Vanderbilt University, USA.

The daily biological clock and sleep regulate how the food one eats is metabolized; therefore, fat burning or carbohydrates changes depending on the time of day or night. The body's circadian rhythm programs the system to burn fat when one is asleep; when snacking at night or skipping breakfast such process is delayed. 

What are biological clocks?

Biological timing devices that innate to an organism. Biological clocks are composed of specific molecules (proteins) that interact in cells throughout the body. Nearly every tissue and organ have Biological clocks. Over the years, researchers have identified similar genes in people, fruit flies, mice, fungi, and several other organisms that are responsible for making the clock’s components. https://www.nigms.nih.gov/education/pages/factsheet_circadianrhythms.aspx

The researchers monitored the metabolism rate of mid-aged and older subjects in a whole-room respiratory chamber over two separate 56-hour sessions, using a "random crossover" experimental design. In each session, lunch and dinner were presented at the same times (12:30 and 17:45, respectively), but the timing of the third meal differed between the two halves of the study. Thus in one of the 56-hour bouts, the additional daily meal was presented as breakfast (8:00) whereas in the other session, a nutritionally equivalent meal was presented to the same subjects as a late-evening snack (22:00). The duration of the overnight fast was the same for both sessions.

The two sessions did not differ in the amount or type of food eaten or in the subjects' activity levels, the daily timing of nutrient availability, coupled with clock/sleep control of metabolism, flipped a switch in the subjects' fat/carbohydrate preference such that the late-evening snack session resulted in less fat burned when compared to the breakfast session. The timing of meals during the day/night cycle affects the extent to which ingested food is used versus stored.

This study is important for one to monitor his eating habits; it is  suggesting that a daily fast between the evening meal and breakfast will optimize weight management. 

Story Source:

Materials provided by PLOSNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Kevin Parsons Kelly, Owen P. McGuinness, Maciej Buchowski, Jacob J. Hughey, Heidi Chen, James Powers, Terry Page, Carl Hirschie Johnson. Eating breakfast and avoiding late-evening snacking sustains lipid oxidationPLOS Biology, 2020; 18 (2): e3000622 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000622


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