Is When We Eat as Important as What We Eat?

We are all constantly reminded that what we eat is very important to our health and wellbeing. Could when we eat be just as important? With so much focus on our calorie intake, we could be missing a simple tool for weight management.

In our busy modern lives, we have started to forget and ignore that food is a source of fuel. We only need to eat to give our body energy. Not because we are bored, unhappy or have a reason to celebrate. Focusing on when we eat takes us back to the basics of how we live and what our body needs.

When We Eat

Circadian Rhythms

To help us understand how to look after ourselves better, scientists and doctors are starting to focus on what is called our circadian rhythm.

Our circadian rhythm can also be described as our 24-hour daily cycle. At different points in our 24 hour day, we require to be able to perform a range of activities such as sleeping, exercise and eating. Our circadian clocks try to ensure we can perform each task best during different parts of the day.

You may have heard of this with regard to how we sleep, but it also affects other parts of our lives, such as how we digest food.

Dr Satchin Panda is leading a research team at the Salk Institue, California. Their work over the last few years shows that when we eat, it can affect how we feel. The work of Dr Satchin Panda’s team is all linked to our circadian rhythms. Each organ and cell in our body has a circadian clock. Sometimes they will be ready to work hard, and sometimes they need to rest.

How Does This Affect When We Should Eat?

As with other parts of our body, the digestive system has a circadian clock which means that at certain times of day it is working at its optimum level. Just as our brain needs to rest at night, so do our digestive systems.

Light and food are the two biggest signs you can show your body what the time is. For your circadian rhythms to work effectively you need your body to understand when it needs to be awake and when it to rest. In modern life, we are constantly in well-lit environments and normally have easy access to food.

The majority of the population has desk jobs in bright offices and eating when bored is a common problem. If we are eating all the time and late into the evening our bodies struggle to know what the time is. By not having an easy to understand circadian rhythm our sleep and health can be affected. If our digestive system does not know what to expect it can’t work effectively, and this could cause weight gain.

The research by Dr Satchin Panda and his team shows that if we reduce the window of time that we consume food, our weight can be better managed. If our digestive system works and rests at the right time of day we are less likely to gain weight. It also can help improve our energy levels.

When Should We Eat?

The old saying ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’ by Adele Davies over 40 years ago could still hold some truth. However, more recent research shows that if we follow a healthy diet in a restricted window of time this could deliver better results. We don’t need to be strict about the portion sizes of what we eat. What we need to focus on is when we eat during the 24-hour daily cycle.

For example, we wake up at 7 am and spend the first hour awake, getting ready. We then eat or drink something around 8 am. The new research suggests we limit our food intake to a 10-hour window. This means that, ideally, our last food intake is consumed by 6 pm in the evening.

Sounds simple. But when you think about how you live your life this means you need to get in from work and finish your evening meal by 6 pm. Then no snacks tea, coffee or alcohol after this. It’s at this point you can start to release how living like this would help with weight loss or prevent weight gain.

How many of us consume calories that we don’t need in the evening?

When We Eat – What Is The Best Approach?

Start to listen to what your body needs. Plan your day and how can you limit the window of time you eat. Have breakfast later or eat an evening meal earlier?

If you’re struggling to restrict eating for a 10-hour window then aim for 12-hours. This still gives your digestive system a 12-hour break.

Follow a healthy diet in a restricted window of time. Consume fewer calories in the evenings and let your body rest and recover.

Good luck – let us know if you try this and any benefits you notice.

For further advice on health and fitness-related topics please get in touch. Our team of personal trainers take a holistic approach to training and can help and support you in your well-being goals.