Your body goes into stress mode when you take meals at irregular times rather than on a regular schedule. When you eat breakfast at 7 a.m. one morning and 11 a.m. the next, your body is confused about where it will get its next meal from. The stress hormone cortisol is released as a result of this. High cortisol levels produce insulin spikes, which cause inflammation, most dangerously weight gain and raise the risk of many diseases.
Make a regular eating routine and try to keep to it as much as possible. Because life gets in the way of routines, make it a habit to always have a nutritious snack on hand, such as air-popped popcorn or an apple, to avoid hunger pangs and insulin spikes.
When students begin university, they frequently acquire weight. This tendency is known as the “freshman 15” in the United States, referring to the 15 pounds that students often gain during their first year away from home. Weight increase can be explained in part by the substitution of home-cooked meals with ready-to-eat meals and fast food, as well as a decrease in physical activity.
Scientists are increasingly pointing to a new suspect: circadian disturbance, which is caused by a lifestyle of late-night eating, drinking, and irregular sleep habits.
Let’s see what studies say
If you’re not a person of habit, you might want to reconsider your daily routine, especially if you’re prone to eating late dinners after a long day at work or skipping breakfast when you’re late. An inconsistent eating routine, according to a recent study, could be causing chaos on your health. Obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes can all be linked to irregular eating.
Even though they consumed more calories overall, persons who ate their meals at the same time every day were less obese and had lower cholesterol and insulin levels, according to two papers published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society. In essence, the timing of your meal is equally as crucial as the content of your meal. According to Health.com, this study is part of a new area of health and nutrition called chrononutrition, which focuses on the relationship between your metabolism and your circadian rhythms.
The idea that our reactions to food change depending on the time of day isn’t new. Energy flowed across the body in accordance with the sun’s movements, according to ancient Chinese medicine, and our meals should be planned accordingly:
The stomach was active from 7-9 a.m., when the largest meal of the day should be had; the pancreas and spleen were active from 9-11 a.m.; the heart was active from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., and so on. They felt that dinner should be light and consumed between 5 and 7 p.m., when kidney function was at its peak.
Despite the differences in explanations, modern research reveals that traditional wisdom has a lot of truth.
Triggers your body clock
“Eating irregularly may influence our internal body clock,” research author Gerda Pot, PhD, told the health journal. Pot is also a visiting lecturer in the Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division at King’s College London. This is because your metabolic process, which includes appetite, digestion, and the pace at which your body consumes fat, sugar, and cholesterol, follows a 24-hour cycle. When you throw that process off by eating at various times throughout the day, you put yourself at risk for weight gain and other health problems.
Set a reminder or alarm on our phone, meal-plan and prep on the weekends, cook the next day’s breakfast and lunch the night before, and set up your coffee maker ahead of time if you want to implement a punctual strategy.
When you combine this with mindful eating, which involves removing all distractions and fully savoring your food, you may be able to quadruple your chances of losing weight, maintaining your weight, or simply feeling healthier overall.
When Should You Eat Your Day’s Main Meal?
So far, we’ve observed that eating at the same time every day has some health benefits. We’ve also learnt that the quality of the food we eat matters, as does ensuring that we eat food that is satisfying.
Is there anything else that needs to be considered? Intermittent fasting is highly trendy these days, and many people swear by eating all of their calories inside a given time frame or not eating after a certain time.
While I won’t go into the specifics of intermittent fasting in this post, I do want to look into what experts have to say about when the optimal time is to eat your largest meal.
Women who ate their largest meal at breakfast and their smallest meal at dinner had lower blood sugar levels and lost more weight, according to a 2013 study published by the Obesity Society.
In addition, a study published in the same year in the International Journal of Obesity indicated that persons who consumed the majority of their calories before 3 p.m. lost more weight than those who consumed their primary meal after 3 p.m.
If you want to reduce weight, both studies suggest that eating the majority of your calories early in the day is the best way to go.
It was also observed that eating more calories early in the day keeps you more content and makes you less likely to snack later in the afternoon and evening.
How does body clock work and influence our weight loss?
A molecular clock ticks inside every cell of your body, regulating the time of pretty much every physiological process and behavior, from hormone and neurotransmitter release to blood pressure, immune cell activity, and whether you feel drowsy, alert, or depressed. These clocks are kept in sync with each other and with the time of day outside thanks to signals from the suprachiasmatic nucleus, a small area of brain tissue (SCN). Intrinsically photoreceptive retinal ganglion cells are a subgroup of light-responsive cells at the back of the eye that act as a window to the outside world (ipRGs).
All of these “circadian” clocks are designed to anticipate and prepare for frequent events in our surroundings, such as food delivery. It means that at different times of the day, different biochemical reactions are preferred, allowing our internal organs to change tasks and recover.
When we travel overseas, our light exposure changes, and our body clocks are all driven in the same direction – but the clocks in various organs and tissues adapt at different speeds. Jet lag is the consequence, and it not only makes us feel sleepy or awake at random intervals, but it can also cause digestive issues and general discomfort.
However, light isn’t the only factor that can alter our clocks’ timing. Even while the clocks in our brain cells are unaffected, the hands of the clocks in the liver and digestive systems might alter when we eat. Recent research also reveals that the timing of exercise can change the clocks in our muscles.
The many clocks in our organs and tissues become out of rhythm with one another when we travel between time zones or eat, sleep, and exercise at irregular times. If you only have the occasional late-night dinner or lie-in, this is unlikely to be an issue, but if it becomes a habit, it may have long-term health issues.
Complex activities involving the stomach, liver, pancreas, muscle, and fatty tissue, such as the metabolism of fats or carbohydrates from food, need the coordination of various processes occurring in the gut, liver, pancreas, muscle, and fatty tissue. If the communication between these tissues is interrupted, they become less efficient, increasing our chance of developing numerous diseases in the long run.
Researchers examined the physical effects of sleeping for five hours every night for eight days with obtaining the same amount of sleep but at different times in a recent study. People’s sensitivity to the hormone insulin decreased in both groups, but systemic inflammation increased, raising the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. These effects were much more pronounced in those who slept irregularly (and hence had their circadian rhythms thrown out of whack): in men, the drop in insulin sensitivity and rise in inflammation was doubled.
Frequent travelers, students who often sleep in, and shift workers may face this issue. According to polls conducted in Europe and North America, 15 to 30 percent of the working population is involved in some type of shift employment, which typically entails eating or exercising when the body is not expecting it. Shift employment has been related to a number of health problems, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, obesity, and depression, with circadian disturbance being a leading candidate.
But, as Panda points out, we’re all shift workers at least part of the time. On weekdays, an estimated 87 percent of the general public has a different sleep cycle than on weekends, causing social jet lag. On weekends, people also prefer to eat breakfast at least an hour later, which might cause “metabolic-jetlag.” It appears that consistency is crucial not just in the timing of meals, but also in the amount of food we eat at each meal.
Gerda Pot is a nutrition expert at King’s College London who is looking into how people’s energy intake varies from day to day and how this impacts their long-term health. Her grandmother, Hammy Timmerman, who was a stickler for routine, was an inspiration to her. She ate breakfast at 7 a.m., lunch at 12.30 p.m., and dinner at 6 p.m. every day. Her snacks, too, were set in stone: coffee at 11.30 a.m. and tea at 3 p.m. When Pot came to visit, she quickly discovered that sleeping in was a mistake: “If I woke up at 10 a.m., she’d suggest I eat breakfast, and half an hour later, we’d be drinking coffee and a cookie,” she says.
There are several possible reasons for this. During the morning, our sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which allows glucose from our food to enter our cells and be used as fuel, is higher than at night. When we eat late (as Hammy Timmerman never did), glucose stays in our blood for longer, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, which occurs when the pancreas no longer makes enough insulin. It can also harm tissues in other parts of the body, including blood vessels and nerves in the eyes and feet. This can result in blindness or amputations in the worst-case scenarios.
Pot discovered that, even though people over 70 years consumed fewer calories overall, people who had a more irregular meal routine had a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome – a group of conditions that includes high blood pressure, elevated blood sugar levels, excess fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol levels – even though they consumed fewer calories overall.
So, what are we going to do about it? A good first step is to strive for better consistency in the schedule of our sleep and meals, and ideally, all of our clocks should be set to the same time zone. When we open the curtains in the morning and see strong light, it resets the master clock in the brain, so eating breakfast immediately after reinforces the message to the clocks in our liver and digestive system that it is morning. In order to maintain our circadian clocks in sync, we may need to have a nutritious breakfast.
Indeed, a recent study including 18 healthy people and 18 people with type 2 diabetes discovered that skipping breakfast caused both groups’ circadian rhythms to be altered, as well as higher blood glucose spikes when they eventually ate.
Regularizing our schedules, however, should not come at the expense of sleep deprivation. Although an odd lie-in is unlikely to harm you, we should strive to go to bed at a time that will allow us to obtain appropriate sleep – the suggested amount for most adults is seven to eight hours – every day of the week. Light exposure may be beneficial in this case. The timing of the master clock in the brain (the SCN) has been proven to shift several hours earlier when people dim the lights in the nights and get greater exposure to strong light during the day, making humans more lark-like. (For additional information, see What I Learned from Living Without Artificial Light.)
Some studies recommend a more extreme strategy, such as fasting for at least 12 hours and possibly up to 14-16 hours overnight. Panda and his colleagues contrasted one group of mice that could eat fatty and sugary foods at any time of day or night to another group of mice who could only eat similar foods during an eight to 12-hour window during their “daytime” in a major study published in 2012. The mice whose feeding window was restricted appeared to be totally shielded from the problems that began to strike the other group: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and liver damage, while consuming the same number of calories.
“On our planet, almost every species, including humans, evolved with a very strong 24-hour rhythm in light and darkness, as well as the corresponding rhythms in eating and fasting,” Panda explains. “We believe that one of the main functions of these cycles is to allow for repair and renewal each night. When traffic is moving, it is impossible to rebuild a highway.”
Human trials of time-restricted eating are still in their early stages, but some preliminary findings appear promising – at least in select populations. When eight men with prediabetes were randomly assigned to eat all of their meals between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., their insulin sensitivity improved and their blood pressure dropped by 10-11 points on average, compared to when they ate the same meals across a 12-hour period.
At this time, it’s unclear what this implies for the rest of us, but the adage that you should breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a poor has never felt more accurate. It’s also very probably worth installing a padlock on the refrigerator for the night.
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