While calories eaten versus calories burned is still important, researchers at Northwestern University have released research indicating that when you eat is important. It turns out that “eating at irregular times — the equivalent of the middle of the night for humans, when the body wants to sleep — influences weight gain. The regulation of energy by the body’s circadian rhythms may play a significant role. The study is the first causal evidence linking meal timing and increased weight gain.” The molecular reasons for this are still being researched. The take-away lesson is that there is a time to sleep, and a time to eat.
The study was initially undertaken to better understand the dietary habits of people working “the night shift”, who have a greater tendency to be overweight. However, the findings may have a big impact on the rest of us. Current thinking is that eating at night interferes with the circadian clock, our inner timepiece that tells us when to sleep, eat, and be active. At least one study showed that late night snacking from normally diurnal people can interrupt sleep patterns.
Northwestern’s research indicated that mice fed “in the middle of the night” gained on average 48% of their body weight! That’s a rather substantial amount. The university’s press release correctly points out that “The findings could have implications for developing strategies to combat obesity in humans.”
That being said, it is possible to maintain a normal weight or even lose weight while working strange hours. It does, however, take discipline and planning.