People are eating food later than our bodies are used to, and it is making people gain weight as a result.
Scientists from the Salk Institute for Biological Studies obtained information from volunteers who utilized a smartphone application to report all the foods and beverages that they had consumed, along with times of their intakes.
According to the results, people are eating later than ever before. Scientists believe that people reverting to a more “traditional” eating schedule might help them lose weight.
The data showed that most people spread their consumption of food over a period of 15 hours or longer each day. On average, most people took in fewer than 25% of their calories before noon, but more than 33% of their calories came after 6 pm.
Scientists believe that this trend is caused by extremely convenient access to food at any hour of the day, thanks to refrigeration and easily accessible eating establishments. The innovations have led to an excessive intake of calories by humans.
It wasn’t this easy for our ancestors.
Study co-author Shubhroz Gill says, “Our ancestors spent some calories trying to get calories, now we don't do that anymore. If you want a chicken sandwich, you just go and pick it up. But the main point for our paper is that not only are we consuming excess calories, we are consuming them later in the day. We don't have a way to measure this, but it's almost certain that our ancestors weren't staying up until 1 a.m. and consuming a lot of calories.”
According to Gill, the shift in times of consumption is a problem since our human metabolism experiences a series of highs and lows throughout the cycle of a day. These highs and lows have been established by evolution to line up with the environment around us. However, due to technological innovations, this schedule has been thrown out the window.
Gill says, “We are not supposed to be consuming food at night, that's how our bodies have evolved, but now we are sort of forcing our bodies to have food when they aren't supposed to.”
In other words, we’re eating off-schedule.
Gill and his colleagues believe that people eating on a more traditional schedule might fix the problem. The researchers conducted an experiment, in which overweight people were asked to eat only during restricted hours.
By eating during restricted hours, the group lost an average of eight pounds over the course of 16 weeks, without otherwise changing their lifestyle. Additionally, the participants in the experiment claimed that they were happier afterwards.
The participants were not requested to change the type or amount of food they consumed. It is possible that they consumed less by eating over a shorter time period. Furthermore, the group also said that they experienced better sleep, which may have influenced the results.
Gill noted, “We don't know the mechanism, but we do know that at least in this very small group it seemed to work.”
Another possible factor is that participants had to photograph what they were putting into their bodies. Because of this, there was no hiding when it came to recording consumption.
“You can lie on a food diary when you write down what you're eating, but when you have to take a picture of it, we're getting a much higher quality look at exactly what people are consuming,” said Gill.
While there needs to be more research, Gill and his colleagues may have uncovered a major cause of the obesity epidemic.
So, the next time you want to eat something, make sure it is during reasonable hours.