Body Health Editorial

How to Plan When You Eat for Optimal Health

Plan when you eat for health and weight

It turns out there's new research that confirms when you eat is as important as what you eat. This research suggests that aligning your eating patterns to your circadian rhythm helps your body to function best. The circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that regulates the physiological processes of living beings, including sleeping or eating and aligns to external prompts such as sunlight and temperature. 

Recent studies show that if you eat late at night or out of sync with the circadian rhythm, you could increase your chances of disrupting your metabolism or gaining weight. In "When We Eat, or Don’t Eat, May Be Critical For Health” written by Anahad O’Connor for the New York Times, the author introduces the work of Dr. Satchin Panda, an expert on circadian rhythm and a professor at Salk Institute. Dr. Panda wrote the book, “The Circadian Code” on the topic after completing related research. 

Dr. Panda argues that people improve their metabolic health when they eat their meals in a daily 8- to 10-hour window, taking their first bite of food in the morning and their last bite early in the evening.

Dr. Panda’s research found that most people like to snack throughout the day and evening, eating roughly from when they get up to when they go to sleep or on a 15 hour cycle vs. the 8 to 10-hour cycle of the circadian rhythm. Eating in a shorter daily cycle is called “time-restricted feeding” and centers on the belief that our hormones and digestive systems are linked to our circadian rhythm and therefore work best when we eat early in the morning and late afternoon. Many of the organs involved in processing the food we eat have rhythms that start and stop at the same time each day (allowing them to “go to sleep” or repair themselves), slowing down in the evenings. This evening “slowing down” led to research findings that suggest consuming most of our food earlier in the day is most healthy. Eating late at night forces our organs to work out of sync with their rhythm and increases the chance of weight gain and disease.

The New York Times article goes on to site a second body of research that reinforces the importance of "time-restricted feeding."

In 2012, Dr. Panda and his colleagues at the Salk Institute took genetically identical mice and split them into two groups. One had round-the-clock access to high-fat, high-sugar foods. The other ate the same foods but in an eight-hour daily window. Despite both groups consuming the same amount of calories, the mice that ate whenever they wanted got fat and sick while the mice on the time-restricted regimen did not: They were protected from obesity, fatty liver and metabolic disease.

Considering when you eat is as critical to health as what you eat. This doesn’t mean giving up dinner, or that there will be times you can’t help but eat later in the evening, but it does suggest that eating your heavier meals earlier in the day, going light at dinner and restricting late night food intake will help you maintain your weight and lead a healthier lifestyle.

  • Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash

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