As a shift worker, my eating habits leave a lot to be desired. Mealtimes are scheduled around a continually-changing work roster and I often end up snacking at the oddest of times, including 3 o’clock in the morning. And while I’d like to say it’s all healthy food, unfortunately it’s not. For some reason, an apple doesn’t seem as appealing as ice cream in the middle of the night just before I head for bed.
Habits like mine are not unusual for shift workers, or for that matter, a large percentage of the population. Recognizing this, researchers are starting to examine more closely how at our eating habits can affect weight gain. In particular, they are focusing on the relationship between the body’s natural circadian rhythm and related rest cycles (i.e. body clock), eating habits and weight gain.
Researchers at Northwestern University, interested what happens when eating habits conflict with natural body rhythms, set up a study to examine off-schedule eating. They divided lab mice into two groups, allowing one group to have unlimited access to high-fat foods during their normal rest periods and the other group unlimited access to the same foods during their normal activity periods. The results – those who snacked during rest periods increased in weight by 48%, over double that of those who snacked during normal activity periods.
This study, published in the journal Obesity, suggests that those who snack in the midnight hour and at other times of inactivity are at much higher risk of weight gain.
That being the case, could the answer to the current obesity epidemic be as simple as avoiding midnight snacking?