By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist

What if I told you that studies have proven that mice and humans on a high-fat, high-sugar diet were able to lose weight and increase muscle mass? Are you intrigued?

Well, it’s true. Dr. Rhonda Patrick of foundmyfitness.com is my favorite nutrition nerd. She does extensive research on aging, metabolism and cancer. In a recent interview with Dr. Satchidananda Panda, a professor at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, they discuss in great detail this one simple life hack that can have a tremendous impact on your metabolism.

Here’s the hack: Eat within a 12-hour-or-less time period each day.

How it works: Upon waking, whatever you consume—outside of drinking plain water—will start your metabolism, even black coffee. Note the time and from that moment on, consume all food and drink within the next 12 hours. It’s that simple.

If you’re curious but not ready to commit to this, start by noting the time you take your first bite or drink to your last each day without altering your patterns, and learn more about your personal habits. Perhaps you’re already eating in your optimal range. Panda has found that most people eat during a 15-hour-or-greater duration. He also suggests that if you want to reap even greater health benefits, eat within an eight-to-nine-hour period.

This metabolic hack gets even better. Studies in mice have shown that individuals that went past the 12-hour eating time only two days a week still reaped the same rewards—hello weekends!

Panda’s studies have now turned from mice to humans. Starting with a small but highly controlled group, he asked eight overweight adults who ate for more than 14 hours a day to eat within a 10-to-11-hour period, seven days a week. No recommendations for altering their normal diets were offered. After 16 weeks of following this protocol, not only did each participant lose an average of 3.5 percent of their body weight, they also reported having more energy and better sleep.

Why it works: Every organ in your body has its own biological clock that dictates how it functions. Each organ’s clock responds to when we eat. Eating turns on the genes responsible for digestion and there’s a specific time for every metabolic activity that follows. For many of us, eating for longer than 12 hours a day causes a build-up of undesired byproducts, which puts stress on our cells and can lead to many chronic diseases.

On the Salk Institute website, Panda advises that: “One should not take away the message that changing the eating duration is the only method to improve health. This may also be risky for individuals with undiagnosed fasting hypoglycemia.” (A person with fasting hypoglycemia has a blood sugar level that drops to an unhealthy range when their stomach is empty.) 

If you would like to track your own intake and to contribute to Panda’s experiment, you can download the free app My Circadian Clock. You will be asked to track everything you eat and drink down to a glass of water, a handful of chips, a piece of a cookie, supplements, medicine, etcetera, and to log all activity and exercise, as well as when and how well you sleep.

Visit mycircadianclock.org/ and download the app “myCircadianClock” from the iOS App Store or Google Play.

Alternatively, you can simply watch the clock, eat within an eight-to-12-hour timeframe, five-to-seven days a week and notice the effects it has on your physical and mental health.

Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach and Consultant, a public speaker and health activist. Contact her at jackie@corehealthmt.com.