Strange but true: When you eat greatly determines your weight

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Q: How was the myth of three square meals a day revealed, and why might this matter?

A: In a study of people's daily eating patterns, 156 volunteers in the San Diego area were asked to use their smartphone to take time-stamped pictures of their food and drinks for three weeks, says Tina Hesman Saey in "Science News" magazine. Contrary to the three-meal-a-day myth, people actually eat almost constantly for about 15 hours a day, nearly all of their waking hours. Circadian biologist Satchidananda Panda and his colleague Shubhroz Gill found that people started eating one and a half hours after awakening and finished a couple of hours before bedtime, with about 25 percent of calories consumed before noon and 37.5 percent after 6 p.m.

Why is this significant? According to physiologist Kenneth Wright, that pattern may contribute to weight gain. "For instance, sleep-deprived people tend to eat more in the evening, and that eating pattern has been associated with gaining weight." In another study, eight overweight participants who ate at least 14 hours a day were asked to restrict their eating to just 10 hours, with no change in diet or lifestyle. After about four months, they had lost an average of 7.2 pounds and reported sleeping better and having more energy.

Though further research is necessary, the take-away for now, says Panda, is that changing WHEN people eat is easier than changing what they eat.

Q: Is there a "robocar" in your future?

A: Asked about driverless cars in 2013, Google cofounder Sergey Brin replied, "You can count on one hand the number of years until ordinary people can experience this," says Paul McFedries in "IEEE Spectrum" magazine. Already, BMW, Lexus and Toyota have "self-parking cars" that can detect a suitable parking spot, plus computerized systems to maneuver on in. Regarding "driverless cars," Audi, GM, Mercedes-Benz, Nissan, Tesla, Volkswagen and others are testing prototypes that are legal in a few states. As someone quipped, "Who'll need the hassle of owning a car once they're all self-driving, and 'robotaxis' can be summoned with just a few taps on your smartphone?"

But this is only the beginning: To "smart cars" will be added "smart roads," leading eventually to the ideal of "crash-avoiding" or "crashless" vehicles, with "platooning" cars whisking along together at a steady speed and set distance. "The ultimate goal is the 'autocar' that is so intelligent and so safe that you could fall asleep in it — the pie-in-the-sky, head-on-the-pillow sleeper car."

Q: When the 44-year-old guy came into a French hospital complaining of a weak leg, what did the docs find? More importantly, what DIDN'T they find?

A: It was 2007 and Dr. Lionel Feuillet ordered up both a CT scan and an MRI, trying to determine the cause of the problem, says Emma Adler in "Mental Floss" magazine. Shockingly, it appeared "the man didn't have a brain," or not much of one. As it turned out, he had hydrocephalus, where for unknown reasons the cerebrospinal fluid fills chambers in the brain and squashes brain matter against the cranium. Some 35 years earlier, neurologist John Lorber wrote about a similar case in which a patient with an IQ of 126 and honors in mathematics showed "virtually no brain." In fact, the brain was incredibly thin — up to 75 percent smaller than normal.

Lorber has studied more than 600 such patients, many of whom were disabled, though others had IQs over 100. As Adler concludes, "It just goes to show that the brain has an amazing power to rebound from slow-evolving injuries. In other words, gray matter matters."

Send STRANGE questions to brothers Bill and Rich at strangetrue@cs.com


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