It seems the brilliant researchers who study our circadian clock, that internal timekeeper, have tuned in to an important factor for weight management: when we eat.
I attended a lecture by Satachin Panda, Ph.D. of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences. It seems a blue light sensor in the retina measures ambient light level and sets the time to go to sleep and wake up every day. Dr. Panda and his associates also study the body’s organ and hormonal systems, believing that each has its own circadian rhythm. In the process of exploring how the liver’s daily cycles work, Dr. Panda found that mice who eat within a 12 hour period were slimmer, healthier mice than those who ate the same number of calories over a longer period of time.
Based on these findings, when we eat may be equally as important as what we eat. As a health coach I see many women struggling with obesity. Almost without exception, these women are night eaters and often snack throughout the day. Could it be their night eating has thrown off their circadian rhythms? It seems likely, since they also are poor sleepers.
Changing Continents and Disrupting Eating Habits
I remember coaching a young woman who moved to the States from South Africa. She became overweight and was quite distressed by it. She told me she ate a low nutrient breakfast (coffee and muffin) early in the day, grabbed a quick high fat lunch around 2 pm and grazed on snack foods in the evening until she went to bed. I asked her what her eating was like growing up; her response was breakfast at 6, lunch at noon, dinner at 6, with no snacking. Her weight was fine in South Africa. I think she is a good example of what Dr. Panda is suggesting - that our bodies have a rhythm for eating as much as it has a rhythm for waking and sleeping.
If you travel to different time zones, you’ve had the experience of having your sleep pattern disrupted. But have you also noticed that your hunger cycle is thrown off as well? It’s only natural because as we are learning, the hunger cycle has its own clock and adjustments are required when traveling.
You Want to Lose Weight
Let’s imagine you want to lose weight. Nutrition is like shoes - no one size fits all, but there are a number of tried and true methods that work. In my work the first and most important thing you can do is choose high nutrient simple whole foods. These are foods that come in their original form - fruits, vegetables, antibiotic free meat, fish and poultry, beans, nuts and seeds. When you eat these pure foods you brain gets signaled that you have adequate nutrition and will turn down the appetite hormones. Now if you couple that with the findings that are emerging regarding circadian rhythms, you may find that you will lose weight even faster. Why? Your body will be in a healthier rhythm. Your insulin levels will be more stable, you’ll be better nourished and less stressed.
Snacking May Not Be Your Friend
Some time ago I wrote a piece on “Grab and Go” for Sixtyandme where I advocate for focused eating in the form of meals. This falls in line with our body’s rhythms and our woman friend from South Africa is a good example of what happens when we snack.
Could you imagine having 12 hour stretches of not eating? Think about it - if you have food at night at 7 pm you would then have breakfast at 7 am the next day. Or you might have an early dinner each day, finishing your eating except perhaps for a cup of tea, no later than 6 pm and have your breakfast the next day at 6 am. It may be your most effective experiment with weight loss and successful outcome yet. We focus on this in my online 6 Weeks to Diet Freedom Program where I coach not only on planning, preparing and eating nutrient rich foods but how to fit them into your lifestyle.
Weight gain doesn’t happen overnight. It is most often a slow, gradual process, where the needle slowly moves up. That needle can be reversed with a patient focused commitment to changing your food for the better and using what we know about our body clock to give ourselves the best opportunity to burn the most energy each and every day.
Does this idea of the body clock’s influence on weight and metabolism make sense to you? Will you experiment with this idea? Please join the conversation.