A new study found that the popular notion that people typically eat three meals per day is a big myth. Using a smartphone app, the researchers were able to debunk the said belief and even discovered that an average individual is a snack-eating machine.

Majority of studies that investigate on food consumptions look into daily food diaries. However, not all people are able to comply fervently; hence, not everything consumed is recorded. For this study, the researchers from The Salk Institute for Biological Studies wanted to find out every single food item that their participants would eat throughout the day so they created a smartphone app to do just that.

After developing the app, the researchers asked 156 individuals to take a photo of every single food/ beverage they are about to consume using the app. The images were instantly sent to a server and are automatically deleted from the storage box of the participant's phone. Through this, no visual documentations, which may influence eating pattern changes, would be available for them.

The findings of the study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, showed that the subjects did not have a regular pattern of eating three basic meals, which are breakfast, lunch and dinner. Rather, they spontaneously consumed random food items ranging from snacks to heavy meals three to 10 times a day on the average.

By noon, the participants were able to take nearly 25 percent of their calorie requirements and after 6 p.m., they have already consumed close to 37.5 percent of their calories. After 9 p.m., about 12.2 percent of calories have been eaten. All in all, the authors found that the subjects consumed about 1,974 calories throughout the day, which is 23 percent higher than the estimated average intake to sustain their ideal weight.

The researchers also found that less than 10 percent of the participants ate within 12 hours or less. In the second part of the experiment, the authors asked eight overweight but healthy subjects to restrict eating within a 10- to 12-hour period. The participants were given the freedom to choose the start time of the said period. Without weekend "cheat days," this practice was employed by the selected participants for weeks.

Sixteen weeks into the experiment, the participants were found to have lost 7.2 pounds on the average. They also reported improved sleep and fairly more energy through the day. As per analysis, these individuals were able to cut down their calorie intake by approximately 20 percent.

"[It's] not only that people don't eat three meals a day," said Satchidananda Panda, one of the authors of the study and an obesity researcher at the Salk Institute's Regulatory Biology Laboratory. People also eat random food items.

In the end, Panda concluded that lifestyle is a mix of people's actions and the time these actions are being done. In terms of food, past studies have determined what should and should not be eaten. However, the correct timing has not been figured out.

Photo: Garry Knight | Flickr

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