Meal timing matters a lot in fat storage

Whereas obesity affects hundreds of millions today people around the world, a new study suggests that part of the solution may be relatively simple: eat your meals earlier. Indeed, this research concludes that the fact of to eat later in the day can have a direct impact on biological weight regulation. This would affect three factors: the amount of calories burned, the degree of hunger and fat storage.

Perhaps you already knew this, because, indeed, other studies have already come to the same conclusions by showing that eating late meals was associated with an increased risk of obesity, increased body fat and impaired weight loss success. But here, the researchers wanted to examine this link closer: “We wanted to test the mechanisms that may explain why eating late increases the risk of obesity“, explains the neuro-scientist responsible for the study Frank Scheer to the science-alert magazine.

What happens in the body

The study was tightly controlled and involved sixteen participants whose body mass index (BMI) was in the overweight or obese range. Each volunteer was subjected to two different experiments lasting six days each, with strict control of sleep and diet and several weeks of break between each test.

In one of the experiments, participants followed a strict three-meal-a-day schedule at usual American mealtimes with breakfast at 9 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., and dinner around 6 p.m. In the other, the three meals were staggered, the first at 1 p.m. and the last around 9 p.m.

Thanks to blood samples, various questionnaires and numerous measurements, the team of scientists was able to make a number of observations. Already, when the participants ate later, their level of leptin, the hormone that controls the feeling of satiety, was lower, the participants were hungrier and their bodies burned calories more slowly.

The tests also showed that the genetic expression of adipose tissue – the one that stores fat – increased the process known as adipogenesis, or the creation of fat, while decreasing the process of lipolysis, or the breakdown of fat.

The researchers took care to isolate these effects by controlling for potential confounding variables such as calorie intake, physical activity, sleep and light exposure, noting that in real life many of these factors could themselves be influenced by meal times.

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