Research: 24/7 lifestyle alters metabolism and increases snacking


On the go, all day and night lifestyle worsens obesity, harms sleep, and increases snacking.

snacking on the couch
snacking on the couch

The quality of the diet in America and the rest of the world has taken a huge downturn in the last twenty years. With the downturn, we have seen an increase in our abdominal circumference, diabetes, and heart disease rates, and sleep quality. As we shift to a 24/7 society with information and food at our fingertips all the time, we are snacking all day and night with no stop. The question is what is the relationship between these items.

Many of these Comfort or snack foods are high in sugars and carbohydrates. They are calorie-dense with processed low-quality ingredients which makes easy to absorb and part of an unhealthy diet when consumed regularly. We know that the widespread availability of energy-dense and rewarding foods correlates with the increased incidence of obesity around the globe. Overeating during mealtimes and unscheduled snacking disrupts timed metabolic processes and further contributes to weight gain. The mechanism behind this link is poorly understood but it is believed to be neuronal and not learned.

Could the association between overeating, poor sleep, and obesity be neuronal? Research from 2020 appears to have had a relationship between these items that is viable​[1]​. In the study, researchers demonstrated that dopaminergic signaling within the suprachiasmatic nucleus, the central circadian pacemaker, disrupt the timing of feeding, resulting in overconsumption of food. This means that our lifestyle is disrupting our dopamine levels and leads to overeating and a slower metabolism over time.

The study was performed in mice but the physiology in humans is similar and would expect to result in similar results. Some of the mice were resistant to obesity and were found to have a different dopamine receptor in this region of their brains. The mice that have sensitive dopamine receptors developed obesity, metabolic disease, and circadian disruption with poor sleep when fed energy-dense diets high in sugar are carbohydrates. This study appears to show the mechanism for increasing obesity in humans as we transition to the digital lifestyle.

The bottom line: Sleep and setting a healthy schedule might be the cure for obesity is a significant portion of our population. These findings define a connection between the reward, obesity, and circadian pathways in the regulation of pathological calorie consumption. More research is needed including human trials, but this study shows a link. I recommend regular sleep schedules and less processed high carbohydrate foods. I would recommend that you choose your snacks wisely and avoid processed snack foods.

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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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