This news may come to no surprise to some, but Americans eat way too much.
A new study used a smartphone app to track the eating habits of 156 San Diego citizens in order to find links between eating habits and overall health.
The participants of the study were instructed to take a picture of everything they consumed, food or drink, using their smartphones. The app would send the pictures to the researcher’s servers without saving a copy to the phone. The researchers believed that if participants had a visual record of the foods they were eating every day, they might feel compelled to adjust their eating habits.
The study tracked the eating habits of the participants over a period of three weeks. Reminders were sent periodically to the participants so they wouldn’t forget to snap photos of their plates.
One of the major causes of obesity in Americans identified by the study was that most people don’t stick to three meals a day. Researchers found no discernible evidence of a “breakfast,” “lunch,” or “dinner” in these cases.
Instead, researchers identified what could only be described as “eating periods.” People were found to eat erratically and constantly from the time they woke up to the time they went to sleep, though the authors of the study noted that slightly more food was consumed before bedtime.
Satchidananda Panda, an obesity researcher involved in the study from the Salk Institute’s Regulatory Biology Laboratory in California, was quoted as saying that lab animals with food intake restricted to an 8 to 12 hour window per day were found to be considerably healthier than animals that were given the choice to eat whenever they wanted.
The Los Angeles Times pointed out, however, that this wasn’t because of less caloric consumption — both groups of animals were given the same amount of food. The healthier animals seemed to benefit simply from having a longer fasting period where no food intake occurred.
In humans, the study found that less than 10 percent of the participants fasted for more than 12 hours each day.
Panda said that people who find themselves eating 15 hours a day — which was not uncommon among the participants — could potentially lose weight simply by reducing the window of time in which they eat.
Researchers tested Panda’s theory on eight of the participants who were found to eat more than 14 hours per day. By restricting these people to feeding periods of 10 to 11 hours — without adjusting their diet in any other way — each person lost an average of 3.5 percent of their weight over 16 weeks. Additionally, participants reported sleeping better and found themselves to be more energetic during the day.
The researchers designed the app to be successful by making it simple to use, so simple in fact that it became “second nature” for the participants of the study.
The app, called “myCircadianclock” has since been released to the public and will provide feedback on its user’s diets. After two weeks, users of the app will be able to review their caloric intake on a “feedogram.”