Figuring out the vagaries of weight loss can be frustrating and confusing for people who struggle to drop pounds and keep them off. But recent research from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center has shed a little light on what could be a workable strategy for some people: timing their eating only to the daytime hours when they're more active.

In the study, researchers used a new high-tech feeding system that uses sensors and automated equipment for doling out specific diets at specific times for mice (who are nocturnal). Similar studies in the past had taken shortcuts with feeding times, since human scientists don’t normally work on a rodent’s schedule.

The researchers found that among the five different experimental groups of mice that were tested, only those mice who ate during times when they're normally active—and were on a calorie-restricted diet—lost weight. Other mice that were on a reduced-calorie diet or were given unlimited food, but were served on off times, showed no weight loss and had disrupted circadian rhythms leading to sleep problems.

"Translated into human behavior, these studies suggest that dieting will only be effective if calories are consumed during the daytime when we are awake and active," said study head Joseph S. Takahashi, Ph.D., chairman of neuroscience at UT Southwestern's Peter O'Donnell Jr. Brain Institute. "They further suggest that eating at the wrong time at night will not lead to weight loss even when dieting."