New evidence shows that eating too close to bed time could be as big of a concern when it comes to putting on weight as what you are actually eating or how much you are exercising. In a report published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston studied the effect of meal timing on 110 people of varying weights for 30 days. The volunteers were between the ages of 18 and 22 and it was determined those with the highest body fat composition were the ones who ate closest to bed time.
Doctors studied the circadian timing of food intake by tracking eating habits of the participants and measuring melatonin release to determine when the volunteers were getting sleepy. It was the timing of that melatonin onset that was of concern to researchers because it signals the beginning of biological night and metabolism slows down. The report stated: “Using clock hour to document eating times may be misleading owing to individual differences in circadian timing relative to clock hour.”
While the clock time the participants ate in relation to when they fell asleep was similar, the ones with the highest body fat consumed most of their calories a little more than an hour closer to melatonin onset than did lean individuals. That showed researchers that how sleepy the volunteers felt was more important than the actual time they ate. At the same time, researchers could not find any difference between the clock hour of food intake, caloric amount, meal macronutrient composition, activity or exercise level, or sleep duration between the lean and higher fat individuals.
“The timing of food intake relative to melatonin onset was significantly associated with the percentage of body fat and body mass index” researchers said. “These results provide evidence that the consumption of food during the circadian evening and/or night, independent of more traditional risk factors such as amount or content of food intake and activity level, plays an important role in body composition.”
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