Our bodies have a master clock called the circadian oscillator. It's timed to the rhythm of a 24-hour day and governs other body clocks, which oversee biological processes like sleeping and eating. One of these clocks, the food-entrainable oscillator (food clock), is responsible for sending signals (i.e. hunger pangs) to keep metabolic processes humming.

These clocks act in unison throughout the day. But, they can easily be thrown off (as anyone with jet lag can attest to). Much like the mechanical components needed for a watch to keep time, biological clocks—such as the food clock—have interconnected genes that switch on and off to let us know when we're hungry; help absorb nutrients from our food; and distribute them to our cells.

Our food clock recognizes our eating patterns and prepares the body to handle the nutrients we get from food. So if we overindulge at a meal, or eat at different times, our food clock gets disrupted and over time shifts to adapt to a new schedule.

The good news: New science is starting to understand the clock better, and how we can reset it.

How to Reset Your Food Clock

A new study from the University of California, San Francisco reveals how a desynchronized food clock affects how much you eat. Researchers have identified a new protein—called PKCy—that, if present, resets your food clock every time you change your eating habits.

To demonstrate PKCy's effect, researchers woke, and then fed mice during the overnight hours. They observed that mice who lacked the gene that makes the PTCy protein eventually slept through the night feeding while the other mice responded to the shift in eating patterns and continued waking up and looking for food.

In terms of holiday weight gain, the theory is by consistently overindulging during this festive time of year you essentially create a new pattern for overeating. However, the research honed in on other distorted eating patterns, from night-eating syndrome to eating habits of shift workers.

According to the study's author, Louis J. Ptackek, MD, "understanding the molecular mechanism of how eating at the wrong time of day desynchronized the clocks in our body can facilitate the development of better treatments for disorders associated with night-eating syndrome, shift work, and jet lag."

The findings may initially help those who suffer from those conditions, but eventually may help those whose systems just get out of whack. The discovery also has implications for diabetes, obesity and other metabolic syndromes because a desynchronized food clock may be part of the pathology for these problems.

In the meantime, here's something to consider: If the protein plays a role every time you shift your eating habits, a conscious effort to shift it back may help. It's worth a shot.

Louis Ptackek, MD reviewed this article.




Newswise. How Excess Holiday Eating Disturbs Your 'Food Clock.' Web. 12 Dec. 2012

Study author Louis J. Ptackek, MD, Department of Neurology and Howard Hughes Medical Institute, University of California, San Francisco. PKCy participates in food entrainment by regulating BMAL1