The Latest On When To Eat

The Latest On When To Eat

It seems that, with the recent advent of Intermittent Fasting as a way to get a grip on eating, more and more people are wondering if it’s worth considering.  On top of that, it has sparked yet another wave of people wondering things like, “is it better to eat breakfast or skip it?”  Or, “Is it better to consume most of your calories early in the day? Or, “Does any of this matter?”

As you may be aware, different countries and cultures do the eating thing differently.  Some seem to eat late at night with impunity.  Others have calories spread out fairly evenly throughout the day.  Does one way or the other lead to better health? 

This kind of thing has been studied for decades.  So, I wanted to find out the very latest research so as to answer these questions.  And, just like that, I came across an extensive review of the research on this issue that was published in 2022. 

What they know.

Turns out “they” know a lot about this.  In particular, about how timing of eating can keep a lid on eating habits that aren’t optimal for us, and, by implication,  maintaining a healthy weight. 

Many studies that have been done are able to focus on the minute details of what goes on in our bodies when we eat or don’t eat.  Enzymes, genes, what goes on in mitochondria (the energy-producing factories inside our cells), many items called polyphenols, hormones, energy sensors, what happens in the gut, and on and on.  There is a fantastic array of chemicals in our bodies that regulate us so that we can carry on. 

Layered on top of that, and relating to meal timing, is what happens to all that when we do or do not follow our natural circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycle).  Just so you know, this area of study is called “chrononutrition.” 

The point is that they know a lot more than you might think.

The bottom line(s).

    • Our daily clocks are geared toward eating times that follow the sun.  When the sun goes down, it is time to stop eating.  When the sun comes up, it is time to start eating. 
    • Body clocks are in virtually every cell of the body. Because of our amazing chemistry, everything is connected and synced.
    • People who work shifts and/or do night work are more prone to metabolic disturbances that can lead to disease and weight gain.
    • About 40% of the population can be genetically classified as “morning people” or “night owls.”  There are many genes involved, but here’s the thing:  The night owls (otherwise known as the evening chronotype) are more prone to unhealthy food choices, binge eating, night snacks, metabolic disorders, and weight gain. 
    • Late night people can be susceptible to shorter sleep periods because they have to get up for jobs, family, etc.  They actually call this “social jet-lag,” and it can indirectly contribute to metabolic ill-health. 
    • Many of you may have experienced “tired eating,” which can definitely happen if sleep deprived.  In these cases, the tendency is to go for high-calorie, high fat foods. 
    • Humans are genetically programmed to sleep-wake cycles, which are sometimes incompatible with modern lifestyles and the constant availability of high-energy foods.  Combined with a sedentary lifestyle, it’s not a good thing.
    • It has also been shown that high-fat diets are a well-known circadian rhythm disrupter, which can also lead to disruption of optimal eating patterns.
    • Optimal eating patterns means sticking to a breakfast-lunch-dinner routine, with a nutritious snack in late afternoon.  Or something closely resembling it. 
    • Eating more fruits and vegetables, beans, high fiber whole foods, and healthy fats can support our inner clocks by giving our gut microbiome a boost.
    • Research is now showing that 50% of our non-shift population has an eating window of 15 hours, with 30-45% of energy consumed during dinner and post-dinner snacks. 
    • Interestingly, many of the ill effects of high-fat diets can be mitigated by limiting eating times to be more in line with our internal clocks. 

    What about intermittent fasting?

    Intermittent fasting, comes in many forms, but the over-arching theme is to get eating patterns more in line with our internal clocks.  Looking at it another way, it is also more in line with how our distant ancestors ate.  They probably did most of their eating during the day.  Then sometimes there were periods without food when items were scarce and when it was more difficult to hunt/gather food. 

    Various studies have reported intermittent fasting to promote better metabolic health, and to produce the same or better weight loss than dieting.  In addition, intermittent fasting shows greater promise than calorie restriction because individuals find it easier to follow it and continue with it for longer, potentially switching to a schedule more in line with our internal clocks permanently. 

    Additional point about intermittent fasting:  it’s been shown that restricting eating time to earlier in the day gets our bodies regulatory mechanisms in gear and is associated with health benefits.  Reading between the lines here, that means eating breakfast is a good idea for most people.  Some people do seem to thrive on skipping breakfast, so there are individual variations. What is clear, however, is that eating after dinner is not good for us. 

    Finally, here’s a precautionary tale, but also a potentially helpful discovery for those who struggle with being overweight.  When overweight or obesity occurs, production of the hormone gherlin drops.  Gherlin is the hormone that tells us when we are satisfied so that we will stop eating.  When that hormone is not as available, there is a lower level of satiety, and a greater tendency to continue eating.  One caveat is that there are mixed results in terms of the impact of intermittent fasting on this issue.

    So, stay tuned.  Meanwhile, is it time for a snack?


    © 2023 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
    Photo Credit: geralt | Pixabay

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