Two Indian-origin scientists in the US have designed an app that records patterns of food intake and provides a personalised "feedogram" to help users improve their erratic eating habits and lose weight.
Salk Institute scientists collected daily food and beverage intake data from over 150 users of a mobile research app over three weeks. They found that a majority of people eat for 15 hours or longer, with less than a quarter of the day's calories being consumed before noon and over a third consumed after 6 pm.
The purpose of the app is to pilot a way to objectively study the effects of timing food intake in humans, researchers said. Primed with evidence of how long people eat each day, senior author Satchidananda Panda, an associate professor in the Salk Institute's Regulatory Biology Laboratory, along with first author Shubhroz Gill, a postdoctoral associate in Panda's group, were able to test whether reducing this daily duration impacts health.
In addition to cutting out some bad habits, the authors hypothesised that a timed feeding schedule could prevent "metabolic jetlag" - when differences in day-to-day or weekday/weekend meal times cause metabolic organs to become out of sync with the body's overall circadian rhythms.
The researchers designed the mobile app after they were unable to find convincing research that investigated when people eat. Gill and Panda designed the app to collect, analyse and interpret patterns of food intake in humans. The app required users to send pictures of everything they ate or drank, whether it was an entire water bottle or a few bites of a cookie.
Each click also captured metadata (such as the location where food was consumed) and recorded a timestamp. Volunteers for the study were healthy males and females between the ages of 21 and 55 from the San Diego area who were not actively managing their diet and who did not go through any weight loss programme in the past six months.
The researchers also tested whether the app could assist people who wished to adapt to time-restricted feeding, that is, eat for fewer and consistent hours every day. Eight overweight individuals who used to eat for more than 14 hours every day were selected to eat for a 1011 hour period each day without any recommendation for altering their normal diet.
After 16 weeks, assisted by a weekly "feedogram" showing their dietary intake patterns, each lost an average of 3.5 per cent of their excess body weight and reported feeling more energetic and having slept better. The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.