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Maintaining a healthy body weight presents challenges for many people. Previous research has shown that the timing of food intake plays important roles in managing body weight. Findings from a recent study suggest that late-night eating is counter to the body’s circadian rhythms, increasing the risk of weight gain.

Circadian rhythms modulate a wide array of the body’s physiological processes, including the production of hormones that regulate sleep, hunger, metabolism, and others, ultimately influencing body weight, performance, and susceptibility to disease. Coordination of meal timing with the circadian rhythm can affect aspects of metabolic health, including glucose regulation and insulin sensitivity.

The study involved 16 adults (average age, 37 years) who had overweight or obesity. The participants followed an “early” eating schedule and then a “late” eating schedule for six days each, separated by a wash-out period of three to 12 weeks. The researchers controlled the participants' caloric intake, physical activity, sleep, and light exposure throughout the two interventions. They also collected adipose tissue samples from the participants for analysis of gene expression. Participants reported their hunger and appetite.

The researchers found that when the participants ate later in the day, their hunger and appetite-regulating hormones increased, but their energy expenditure decreased. In addition, eating late altered biochemical pathways involved in fat metabolism and storage.

These findings suggest that eating late influences appetite, energy expenditure, and molecular pathways in fat tissue, underscoring the role of circadian rhythmicity in bodyweight management. Watch this episode in which Dr. Satchin Panda summarizes tips and strategies that anyone can follow to ensure a healthy circadian pattern.

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