Just changing when you eat can has a big effect on how much you weigh. At least if you are a mouse.
A new study is the first causal evidence connecting meal timing and increased weight gain. The journal Obesity on September 3 published "Circadian Timing of Food Intake Contributes to Weight Gain" online in advance of print.
Only the abstract is available free. But lead author Deanna Arble of Northwestern University's Center for Sleep and Circadian Biology sent me the full text and answered my questions.
For six weeks the researchers fed some of the mice only during their normal sleeping hours. Their weight gain was 48 percent. But the mice that they fed the same type and amount of food only during the hours that they were naturally awake gained just 20 percent.
Now, mice, men, and women are all different. So what applies to one group may not apply to the others. But shift workers seem to have a bigger weight problem than the rest of us, and the researchers wondered why.
"One of our research interests is shift workers, who tend to be overweight," said Ms. Arble says. "Their schedules force them to eat at times that conflict with their natural body rhythms. This was one piece of evidence that got us thinking -- eating at the wrong time of day might be contributing to weight gain. So we started our investigation with this experiment."
Other studies found the body's internal clock also regulates energy use. This suggests that the timing of meals may matter in the balance between caloric intake and expenditure.
This also suggests that snacking after dinner can lead to piling on the pounds. Some of us already suspected this.
So I asked Ms. Arble if she had any tips about how to avoid eating between dinner and breakfast. I told her that I have finally been able to succeed in this quest most of the time, but it sure is hard. And other people tell me that it is impossible for them.
"From our research and the science literature, I suggest eating a larger breakfast and/or lunch," she replied.
"From a more personal, non-scientific side, I'm one of the luckier ones that doesn't eat after dinner too much, so I can't offer any personal tips. However, my fiance has his own trick. He brushes his teeth just after dinner. I guess that minty/clean sensation combined with the association of being finished for the day prevent him from eating further."
Like almost all of us who have diabetes I have to watch my weight all the time. So I immediately adopted that trick and just in time. Instead of brushing my teeth just before going to bed as I used to do, after returning from my vacation in Alaska I now brush my teeth right after dinner.
My vacation was more than just a change of scene. I also took a couple of weeks off from my very low-carb diet and didn't get much of the regular exercise that I get at home.
But now that I'm back I have already lost seven of the eight pounds that I gained while I was away. I am back to my regular diet and exercise and never once since coming back home did I eat anything after dinner. Brushing right away is a great trick.