There's more to losing weight than just reducing your calorie intake

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Researchers explain how late-night snacking and eating at the wrong times can kill a diet

So, you’ve finally decided to bear down on your goal of losing weight and have cut down on calories. You should start losing weight any time now, right? Maybe not…

A new study from UT Southwestern Medical Center reveals that even the strictest dieters can fail to lose weight if they’re eating meals or snacking at the wrong time. Using mice subjects, Dr. Joseph S. Takahashi and his colleagues found that there’s more to losing weight than just cutting down on calories.

"Translated into human behavior, these studies suggest that dieting will only be effective if calories are consumed during the daytime when we are awake and active,” Takahashi said. “They further suggest that eating at the wrong time at night will not lead to weight loss even when dieting.”

Eating at the right time

To reach their conclusions, the researchers used high-tech sensors and automated feeding equipment to test the benefits of calorie-restricted diets. Mice were split up into five groups and given different dietary protocols to see which plan helped them lose weight.

Out of the five groups, only the mice who had a reduced calorie plan and ate during their normal feeding/active cycles were able to lose weight. The researchers say that the feeding schedule these mice followed tended to consolidate food intake into shorter periods and led to an unexpected increase in wheel-running activity, which they attribute to a previously unrecognized relationship between feeding, metabolism, and behavior.

The other four groups, who were either not given a reduced calorie plan or were fed during non-active or resting periods did not lose weight, suggesting that eating late at night even when on a diet will not lead to positive results.

The researchers say that the new tools they were able to use during the study have already led to a number of fresh insights, and that further study on dietary habits could lead to even greater understanding.

The full study has been published in Cell Metabolism.