Back in the ’90s, I followed with slightly more than idle curiosity the career trajectory of a basketball player named Robert Traylor, whose considerable girth earned him the nickname “Tractor” during four mostly memorable seasons at the University of Michigan. Traylor was drafted by the NBA Dallas Mavericks and quickly discovered that the heft that aided him in college was less effective in the pros. So he decided he would shed some of his 300-odd pounds.
As you know, there are nearly as many weight-loss strategies as there are people who want to lose weight, but Tractor employed one that was more interesting than most: He refused to eat anything after 8 p.m.
I can’t recall the actual number of pounds Traylor lost during that particular bout with his bathroom scale, but he did slim down some and managed to stick around the NBA for seven seasons, so it probably had some affect on his career. Not that he became a star or anything: His major claim to fame was that Dallas traded him on draft day to the Milwaukee Bucks for Dirk Nowitski, a skinny kid from Germany who turned out to be one of the greatest players ever to play the game. Still, the odds that he would survive at his original poundage were pretty long.
(Sorry for all the sports trivia. Now you know what My Lovely Wife has to put up with all the time.)
Like most guys who haven’t had to deal with weight issues, I tend to be pretty skeptical of any dietary regimen. But I was intrigued by a new study out of San Diego State which suggests that Tractor was onto something: Turns out, it’s not so much what you eat, but when you eat that most affects your overall health as you age.
Researchers observed two sets of fruit flies — one that was only allowed to eat during a 12-hour period each day and another allowed to eat anytime. Each group ate the same amount of food, but the flies that were limited to a specific eating period were much healthier than those that ate all the time. “In very early experiments, when we compared five-week-old flies that were fed for either 24 hours or 12 hours, the hearts of the latter were in such good shape that we thought perhaps we had mistaken some young three-week-old fruit flies with the older group,” lead study author Shubhroz Gill told Science Daily. “We had to repeat the experiments several times to become convinced that this improvement was truly due to the time-restricted feeding.”
Upon further observation, Gill and his colleagues discovered that the time-regulated eating regimen switched on some genes that led to healthier outcomes.
Here’s how Science Daily explains it:
“They identified three genetic pathways that appear to be involved: the TCP-1 ring complex chaperonin, which helps proteins fold; mitochondrial electron transport chain complexes (mETC); and a suite of genes responsible for the body’s circadian rhythm.”
This approach has been shown to be effective in treating metabolic diseases and type-2 diabetes in lab mice, and Girish Melkani, a SDSU biologist specializing in cardiovascular physiology, believes it could translate to humans. “Time-restricted feeding would not require people to drastically change their lifestyles, just the times of day they eat,” he said. “The take-home message then would be to cut down on the late-night snacks.”
Sadly, that late-night noshing eventually caught up to Tractor Traylor. He died in 2011 of a heart attack at the age of 34.