What you eat matters.
When you eat matters, too.
Shifting when you eat for improved health and wellbeing.
A growing body of research shows that disruptions to a person's natural circadian rhythm can lead to metabolic dysfunction and increased risk of diabetes, overweight and heart disease. The human body has adapted to the earth's 24 hour light-dark cycle, so much so that even people in total darkness continue in a 24 hour rhythm, as do cells from tissue biopsies in petri dishes. Modern life, especially when working from home, can delay and disrupt one's food pattern typically leading to under-nourishing and backloading calories to the latter part of the day.
The intricate time-keeping system regulates behaviors like eating, sleeping and wakefulness, as well as physiological functions like temperature, immune function, blood pressure, hormone production and digestion. Some research even suggests that overweight and obesity is a "chronobiological" condition. Studies also show that early eaters lost weight, despite consuming the same amount of food as late eaters and reporting no differences in physical activity. Read on to discover how manipulating meal timing might be a manageable external factor that can contribute to improving your overall health.
A study of 32 adult women (Nutrients, 2019) found that even a late lunch (4:30 PM compared to 1:00 PM) led to decreased glucose tolerance and resting energy expenditure. This means that eating the same lunch just 3 1/2 hours later reduced the bodies ability to manage and metabolize carbohydrates and lowered the amount of calories the body burned at rest.
When considering metabolic syndrome and overall health, supporting metabolism and remaining efficient at processing carbohydrates is crucial for long term health. The takeaway here is to focus on front-loading your calories. Follow these tips to ensure you're nourishing your body adequately:
Eat a Balanced Breakfast
Breakfast should be consumed within 2 hours of waking, earlier if you're rising late. Rather than choosing lower calorie options with simple sugars, aim to include complex carbs, protein and healthy fat, ideally with a good dose of fiber.
Eat Every 3-4 Hours Thereafter
While there's no perfect meal pattern, generally eating every 3-4 hours will ensure you're nourishing yourself early enough each day.
Capitalize on Snacks
If you're feeling hungry between meals opt for a snack consisting of produce + protein, like an apple with peanut butter, peppers and hummus, or a clementine with edamame. This ensure you're adding nutrition rather than reaching for processed foods to stave off hunger.
A balanced breakfast is crucial to properly fueling throughout the day. Find inspiration here.
Avocado Toast with Egg
Choose a whole grain or sprouted whole wheat bread and top with 1/4 smashed avocado and a cooked egg. Jazz it up with hot sauce, everything but the bagel spice mix, tomatoes and herbs or plenty of black pepper. Another protein alternative is leftover salmon flaked on top in lieu of an egg.
Make oatmeal with dairy milk or a milk alternative. If making with a lower protein liquid, like almond milk, consider adding a half scoop of pea protein powder. Top the cooked oats with 1/4 - 1/2 c fruit and a dose of healthy fats from chia seed, nuts or almond butter. Cinnamon and a small drizzle of honey adds flavor!
Quick Greek Yogurt Parfait
Time is no excuse with solutions like a quick parfait. Choose plain greek yogurt, stirring in your own spices, vanilla extract or bit of honey. Top with 1/2 cup fruit and a dose of nuts or seeds for healthy fat. You can also add a DIY Chia Seed Jam for a "fruit on the bottom" effect, but healthy!
Fine-tuning meal timing can combat fatigue and "quick carb" cravings.
Do you struggle with afternoon or evening sugar cravings? Or, are you used to combating an afternoon energy slump? A further benefit of shifting calorie intake to the earlier part of the day, nourishing yourself from the time you wake up, is that you enjoy more sustained energy and better hunger hormone balance. Some people claim they are "not a breakfast person" or "can't eat right away in the morning." Consider the root cause is backloading your day with calories, ultimately disorienting your hunger cues, blood sugar balance and natural rhythm.
As calorie intake shifts to the earlier part of the day, you may notice more steady energy levels through the afternoon and a reduction in evening cravings. To make the shift, commit to prioritizing breakfast. Then, pre-plan meals and snacks so you're not letting stress or your schedule determine when, or what, you eat. It helps to get into a routine of steady food prep tasks, like cutting vegetables, pre-portioning trail-mix or hummus, and bulk cooking protein so healthy choices are the easy choice. Remaining proactive about what and when you're eating ensures your choices are intentional and supporting your overall health.
Regulate your habits to sync your timing systems.
To tap into your two natural timekeeping systems, its important to regulate your habits. Aim to expose your body and eyes to bright light at dawn, and reduce evening light exposure, especially blue light from technological devices. This helps set the Central Clock. For the Peripheral Clock, breakfast is CRUCIAL, as it keeps the body and gut in rhythm.
When our central and peripheral clocks are synced, studies show that weight and blood sugar balance are better regulated, LDL cholesterol is lower, energy is more stable and sleep quality improves. Has there ever been a better reason for breakfast?
Sweet Potato Hash
1 small onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 cups kale leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon paprika
salt and pepper, to taste
1 green onion, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced
Heat a large skillet and add 1 T olive oil. Cook diced onion and red bell pepper for one minute to soften.
Add the diced sweet potato and spices to the pan. Cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring often. Place a lid on the pan for the last 5 minutes to soften the sweet potato until fork tender. Add the kale and stir for an additional 1-2 minutes, until the kale wilts.
Use a spatula to create 4 wells. Crack an egg into each well and cook until the eggs are done to your liking. You can cover the pan to cook the eggs faster.
Remove from the heat, topping with black pepper, scallions and sliced avocado.
Focus on the clock! Make a commitment to prioritize fueling your body, starting with a balanced breakfast. If you need further accountability try logging your foods in a food-tracking app to determine WHEN you're eating most of your energy for the day. Make adjustments from there and pay attention to the impact.