A recent study conducted by neuroscientist Frank Scheer, from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, suggests that eating earlier in the day can positively impact our biological weight regulation in three significant ways. The three ways are through the number of calories burned, our hunger levels, and the way our bodies store fat. The research was conducted on 16 participants with a BMI in the overweight or obese range.
The participants went through two different experiments lasting six days, with their sleeping and eating tightly controlled beforehand, and several weeks between each test. In one experiment, the participants kept to a strict schedule of three meals a day around the normal times. In contrast, in the other experiment, the three meals were shifted back, with the first meal around 1 pm and the last around 9 pm, so lunch, dinner, and supper.
The study showed that when eating later, levels of the hormone leptin, which tells us when we’re full, were lower across 24 hours, indicating participants may have felt hungrier. What’s more, calories were being burned at a slower rate. The tests also showed that adipose tissue gene expression, which affects how the body stores fat, increased the adipogenesis process that builds fat tissues, and decreased the lipolysis process that breaks fat down.
When people eat earlier, it can impact three key drivers of the way our bodies balance energy and the subsequent obesity risk. Obesity can lead to other health issues, including diabetes and cancer. Finding ways to stop obesity from developing in the first place would make a huge difference to the health of the global population.
The study is an essential insight into how the risk of becoming obese could be lowered in a relatively simple way – just by eating meals a few hours earlier. Earlier studies had already identified a link between the timing of meals and weight gain. However, this study looks closer at that link and the biological reasons behind it.
The researchers want to see research involving more women, as just five of the 16 participants were women in this case. The team also wants to see research that analyzes how changes in bedtime in relation to eating time might factor into these processes. The team isolated the study’s effects by controlling for confounding variables like caloric intake, physical activity, sleep, and light exposure. Still, in real life, many of these factors may themselves be influenced by meal timing.
Overall, the study’s findings show that eating earlier in the day can impact three key drivers of the way our bodies balance energy and the subsequent obesity risk. This change is perhaps simpler for some people to manage than sticking to a diet or exercise regime.