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Science Tuesday, December 25th 2012 at 12:00 pm

Holiday Overeating Resets Your ‘Food Clock,’ Is Even Worse For You Than Once Thought

As I type this, holiday eating is unleashing sheer havoc on my poor, defenseless waistline, and I suspect I’m in good company on that front. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, though, says it’s not just the rich, delicious food we eat over the holidays that contributes to our bulging bellies — nor is it the grotesque platefuls of Mom’s mac and cheese we’ll put away without blinking, racing our poor siblings to the only seconds on a given dish we’ll get all year. Instead, the timing of our meals — which, if your holidays are like mine, expands to a 24-hour-eating cycle this time of year — is also a factor in our unhealthy eating habits, resetting our biological clocks and tricking our bodies into thinking we’re hungry.

The food clock is a complex and not yet entirely understood series of interactions between genes and molecules that acts as a sort of biological timer for hunger. It lets you know when you should eat, and when you’re actually hungry. Folks who have their food clocks thrown off, though — whether because of working odd shifts, suffering jet lag, or just grabbing a midnight snack can impair their clock’s ability to determine when they’re actually hungry, prompting them to eat any old time instead.

According to a report by researchers from the University of California San Francisco, there’s no better way to throw a food clock out of synch than falling into the all-the-time eating habits that so many of us do during the holidays. Every time you eat, whether it’s a big meal, a light snack, or just a couple cookies that don’t count if you eat them while wrapping presents (hey — we all have our rules, ok?) it resets your food clock, and further confuses your body about when it is supposed to eat. Constantly resetting this “food clock” by snacking around the clock can fool our bodies into behaving as if we’re hungry pretty much all the time, when really eating is just a better thing to do than hear about Aunt Judy’s sciatica. Again.

The research in question, on lab mice, uncovered a new gene which may offer insight into why some people’s food clocks are harder to reset than others. Researchers hope these clues will help them develop tools to allow people to eat healthier and wiser in the future, a development we’ll welcome any day, even if it might mean skipping that midnight serving of scalloped potatoes.

(via PNAS)

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