New research found that most folks were eating for 15 or more hours while awake, and the lion’s share of calories were eaten well after 6 PM.
“Most participants thought they don’t eat or drink that regularly outside their breakfast-lunch-dinner routine,” said study co-author Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in the Regulatory Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, Calif. Most people also assumed that they had been confining their eating routine to a 10-12 hour window, he added.
The study’s results are in the Sept. 24 issue of Cell Metabolism.
The findings stem from a new effort to track real-world eating behavior by means of a newly designed mobile app.
For three weeks, 150 healthy men and women continuously snapped photos of all the food, drinks and nutritional supplements they consumed. In turn, the app tracked all caloric intake, along with the exact time and place food was consumed, the researchers said. After 21 days, investigators determined that food intake was generally both erratic and continuous.
In essence, the study authors found that whenever they were awake, people ate. More than half of the participants spread their food intake over a roughly 15-hour period each day. Fasting tended to occur only during sleep, the study found.
Less than a quarter of daily caloric intake happened before noon. By contrast, more than a third of food was consumed after 6 p.m.
Lona Sandon, an assistant professor of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, said the study findings are “not much of a surprise.”
“Basically this new study helps confirm what we already suspect,” she said. “Eating sporadically and at all hours is just not good for our health."
“I see this a lot in those that I work with in my weight-loss classes,” Sandon added. “There is a lack of planning and stability in their eating schedules, so eating just happens whenever. Many skip breakfast, have a light lunch, then find themselves hungry and tired in the afternoon and seeking a pick-me-up from the vending machine, only to get home from work ravenous and wanting to eat anything and everything with no energy to exercise. They then spend the night snacking before bed. This is a common phenomenon.”
There are two great statements in this study – “Food intake was generally both erratic and continuous” and “Fasting tended to occur only during sleep.”
I have started tracking my “food activity” on my Fit Bit. I find it a bit tedious, but I also find that I make better choices when I know I’m going to record what I eat. Most of my new patients complete a food journal and many will admit that their diet improved as soon as they knew I would be reviewing their efforts.
The concept of grazing rather than eating “three square meals” is not inherently unhealthy. However, the total caloric intake must not be elevated and the food choices need to be healthy as well. Although not stated in this study, I’m sure the food choices were not very good.
The Bottom Line:
Do not skip breakfast and do not load your caloric intake at the end of the day. You can graze but stick with five vegetable servings, two fruits and three proteins every day. Make sure one of those protein servings is at breakfast.