The Weight on America
Americans are obsessed with weight. We read about it, think about it, twitter about it. We even pay billions to lose it.
As I’ve argued before, weight is not the enemy. An impoverished, narrow view of health is the real culprit. Medicine looks to “fix” the “homeostatic” human machine rather than aid the regeneration of the relentlessly rebuilt and restyled human body. Most significalty, elements of culture and lifestyle – a preference for Big Macs over broccoli, drives in the SUV above walks to the neighborhood grocery, building hospitals over constructing playgrounds, walkways and parks, lead to a population that is unhealthy – and then weighty.
But if I talk to my patients and clinical colleagues, when patients are given the choice of “long life” over getting skinny, many prefer getting skinny. Many general physicians repeatedly intone “weight loss, weight loss” that their charges might achieve better lab values. And if Americans collectively lost a lot of weight other good things would happen – including sleeker airplane seats and lower hospital and transportation bills.
So let’s look at weight and time. For everybody knows – I hope – that timing is key.
Appearing in the International Journal of Obesity, the researchers hail from Murcia, a part of Spain hit hard by the economic crisis. People there are stressed. They’ve gained lots of weight. They want to lose it.
So 420 people undergo a 20 week weight loss program. They average in their early 40s, half men, half women.
Most lose weight. But the ones who eat earlier in the day lose more. And keep it off.
Remember, this is Spain – where restaurants may not open for dinner until 10 P.M.
Different biological clock genes of the group are studied – they don’t seem to change the results much or at all. Self-professed individual morningness versus eveningness doesn’t seem to matter. Sleep duration doesn’t seem to affect weight. .
Yet timing of eating does. And the people who eat later also claim to skip breakfast more often.
Understandably – as they already received further calories later the previous day.
So eating earlier makes it easier to lose weight.
Why We Should Not Be Shocked By the Results
1. Army studies done in the early 1970’s demonstrated that if soldiers ate one meal a day, if they ate in the morning they lost weight, if they ate at night they gained.
2. People who skip breakfast have a harder time losing weight.
3. Kids whose parents skip breakfast have a harder time losing weight.
4. Baseline insulin levels are much higher in the morning than earlier.
5. Humans are usually in starvation mode when they wake up. The brain needs glucose to survive. The blood needs glucose to survive. By the time people wake, liver stores of glucose are used up and they’re digesting muscle protein to keep brain and blood alive.
6. Eating at night leads to higher blood insulin and fatty acid levels than eating in the day.
7. Shift workers are much more frequently obese than those who don’t work shifts.
8. Take animals and have them eat when they normally would not – and they gain a lot of weight.
Time changes all other aspects of human performance. That it changes the effects of food should be absolutely no surprise. Drugs given at different times have different effects. The psychomotor effects of alcohol are two to three fold greater at midnight than at 6 A.M.
So what’s the big deal?
Why We Should Not Be Shocked By the Results – But Are
That timed behavior changes weight doesn’t make sense to people.
I eat the same meal. It’s the same calories. The same stuff. The same level of carbs.
You’re telling me that if I eat it in the morning I’ll gain less weight than if I eat it at night?
Sadly, the public – and medicos – continue to see the body as a machine. The car doesn’t care if it’s 4 P.M. or 4 A.M. Give it gas and it works the same. Give your laptop electricity and it works – the same at any hour.
The problem is machines are dead.
Machines don’t change that much with time of day. But they certainly change with the environment.
Try starting your car engine at negative 40 degrees Centigrade – or after a flood envelops the garage.
The environment always changes. So do we. We adapt and adjust endlessly, remaking ourselves and renewing ourselves to survive and thrive.
Quickly. Much of the human body is rebuilt in three to four weeks.
And much of that building is guided by the armature of time. A masterful series of clocks in every human cell aids that process of continuous remaking.
Some of the clocks operate inside milliseconds. Some follow the cycle of day and night – sun and moon. Others tick off the times of season or year.
But each biological clock prepares us for change – the change in our external and internal environment, the endless, rapid biology of life.
Timing is key. Whether the matter is weighty like weight, or light as sunlight, everything in the human changes with time.
It really is time to get time on your side – in everything you do.
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