It’s not just what you eat, it’s when you eat
There is some fascinating research into the chronobiology of eating. Researchers are finding that if you eat at the wrong time then there’s no point to a healthy diet. The stress induced causes a physiological response equivalent to eating deep fried, sugar-coated, fast food. When we eat is as important as what we eat.
What is Chronobiology
Before I go further, let me explain about this emerging science (although for plants and animals, the beginnings of Chronobiology date back to the 18th century!)
Chronobiology refers to the day-night cycle that affects us as human beings when the earth rotates. Since the beginning of mankind, human history has been shaped by light and darkness. This connection is important in the prevention and treatment of diseases, as well as for the healing process.
Examples of different types of rhythms include:
- Seasonal rhythms lasting more than a day such as bird migration, lunar rhythms (which follow the phases of the moon), tidal cycles, and a woman’s menstrual cycle.
- Biological rhythms that are shorter than 24-hours include breathing, heart rate, circulation of blood, excretion of hormones, different stages of sleep etc.
- Circadian Rhythms are rhythms that take approximately 24-hours, i.e. the human sleep/wake cycle. Many effects of circadian rhythms directly and immediately affect humans; therefore, they are the most extensively researched.
We regulate our physiology (the workings of our body) throughout the day using biological clocks and oscillators that finely tune us to adapt to our environment. There are specific times for sleep and times for waking, times for eating and times for rest.
If you eat at the wrong time, your physiological response to eating healthy food can be jeopardised! As mentioned at the beginning, it’s just as important as when you eat as what you eat. Maybe this is why nutrition research so often throws up contradictions?
Knowing how our biological clocks work and what disrupts them is clinically valuable. Paying much more attention to the when than the what can change everything. Break the cycle and it’s an uphill battle. Our physiology copes very poorly with getting the timing wrong. For example, later eating times can impact our food choices, typically the later the eating time, the poorer the food choice.
In addition, the following consequences can occur:
- Increased weight gain/stubborn weight loss
- Insulin resistance and increased blood glucose levels
- Impaired melatonin secretion (therefore poor sleep quality)
- Hormone disruption
- Increased heart rate variability
- Accelerated ageing
- The list goes on
What’s even more useful is knowing what chronobiology teaches us about how to sync with our bodies needs and expectations.
Simple recommendations are going to make large differences to your health and waistline.
Example chronobiology recommendations include:
- Engaging in intense exercise is better for you in the morning; whereas more ‘relaxing’ forms of exercise such as yoga is OK later in the day/early evening.
- Avoid exposure to bright light from computers/tablets/smart phones at least 3 hours prior to going to bed (Watching TV is less of a concern, perhaps because the viewing distance is greater). Apparently we are getting 20% less sleep on average than we were 40 years ago.
- Go to bed preferably by 10pm.
- For optimal ‘entrainment’, eat no later than 6.30pm during the summer months, and by 5.30pm in the winter months. If your lifestyle/work habits dictate a later evening meal time, opt instead for a snack at 4pm and a lighter meal when you get home.
What’s best for you?
If you are struggling to lose weight, interested in anti-ageing and achieving/maintaining optimal health, book your appointment today to find out some surprisingly useful tips on eating, exercising, getting light and avoiding light. The research coming through is telling us that our physiology really wants to keep to its natural cycle. Simple bespoke recommendations are going to make large differences to your health and waistline.