A recently publicized study by Northwestern University claims that their research sheds new light on obesity. In this study, mice fed a high fat diet during normal sleeping time led to a greater increase in weight gain than the same diet given during normal waking hours. This, they assert, proves that obesity is more than simply calories in vs. calories out. The researchers were looking to apply this outcome to shift workers who work irregular hours and experience weight gain.
Animal studies play a role in human research, but we need to be careful in a mouse-to-human transference. The subject of meal timing and weight gain has been looked at quite a bit in human research with mixed results. Basically, I can find studies that show it matters and I can find those that show no difference. It kind of goes that way with research.
The difficult thing about human research and outcomes is the human. We are forgetful, prideful, inaccurate and at times untruthful. This makes it hard to come to definite conclusions in human research, unless you can sequester the participants for a period of time and provide the only food they will eat. Even then, you develop research that falls into the “so what” category, because no one will do actually do in real life what they did in the study.
Let’s get back to the late shift factory worker. If they have been gaining weight, then what is the solution? Don’t eat? Get a different job? Not likely. The ultimate solution for this person will be to either increase their activity, eat less, or a combination of both. So, increase calories out, decrease calories in or a combination of the two. Sounds like a calories in vs. calories out relationship to me.
Why do I care enough to write a blog about this? Because every time something like this comes out, it gives people an excuse for weight gain and declining health. It isn’t my fault, I work the late shift; it’s my genetics; my parents were overweight; I eat too many carbs; I have a slow metabolism. There is, to date, no instance of weight gain that cannot be traced to an excess amount of calories consumed IN RELATION to calories expended. Where this gets lost is that even subtle changes in activity or food intake patterns can affect energy levels and appetite. I make this distinction here because at the moment these influences are just that — a feeling: a desire to eat sweets, to snack, a craving or a lack of energy and enthusiasm to move or workout or even a spurt of energy to move more.
What follows determines the impact of the feeling. That is why we stress the need for cognitive awareness: being aware of what you are eating and doing and what impact that has on your energy balance. If you can track that you are eating more calories than you want or need, then you can take action. You can simply reduce portions, not eat certain foods or make substitutions that take a smaller chunk out of your daily calorie allotment. Measuring your activity level can motivate one to purposely be more active, using the calories burned as a score for the day. Periodic weighing can get your attention when weight begins to creep up, not when it has blindsided you with a huge increase.
Ultimately, you are in control of your weight, within reason of course. It is you that eats the food and makes the food choices. Ultimately it is you who makes the decision to move more or less. Allowing for genetics and other factors beyond your control confuses the issue and takes control from you. To date I have never seen a single person whofailed to lose weight when they consistently altered their calories in vs. their calories out to do so. The choices are yours and completely in your control.