Do You Eat at the Right Time?
Light is the single most important factor timing your natural rhythms. Light is, however, not the only thing that matters.
Your body goes through several processes while and after you eat. These processes are supposed to help the body utilize the nutrients and the energy to fuel and build your body. The body is not equipped to function on its full speed all day round, but to have some time to rest in the steady 24-hour rhythm. During the day, the processes make sure that your metabolism stays active and that the foods you consume are used as energy to keep you going. Excess energy is stored as fat.
It is natural not to eat during night time. Your metabolism gets slower during the night to run some necessary maintenance activities with the energy from the fat reservoir. Unlike one might think, your body is more efficient in burning fat during the night than it is during the day! During the day, the calorie expenditure is naturally higher, but the energy used is mainly from the meals that you are eating during day time.
Your metabolism is paced based on your eating habits (e.g., when you are eating and when you are fasting), as the light times your inner clock. In other words, your stomach’s day starts when you eat breakfast and ends with the last meal of the day. Metabolism needs rest as much as does the rest of your body. In this case, it is essential to take care that you give your metabolism a rest each night.
Once your metabolism is aligned with your sleep-wake rhythms, your body is in its optimal state, and you can have a better rest. In an asynchronous state, where your rhythms are not aligned, your body gets confused, whether it is day time or not. For example, by having a meal in the middle of the night, your metabolism wakes up and thinks that it’s time to start the day. Your body stops its maintenance and starts to process the food. Your stomach starts the day early, and there is not enough time to burn calories efficiently. In this light, there is a connection in having your eating habits misalign with natural day-night rhythms with an increased risk of being overweight and type 2 diabetes.
When is the correct time to eat then?
No skipping breakfast! Eat as soon as possible after waking up.
Eat regularly, don’t skip meals, and avoid snacking in between meals.
The last meal should be substantial (but not too heavy) and eaten 2-3 hours before bedtime. Avoid snacks until morning.
Consistency is key in keeping your mealtimes regular throughout the days, even between weekdays and weekends.
Example Habits to try:
Chaix, A., Zarrinpar, A., Miu, P., & Panda, S. (2014). Time-restricted feeding is a preventative and therapeutic intervention against diverse nutritional challenges. Cell Metabolism, 20(6), 991–1005.
Maury, E., Ramsey, K. M., & Bass, J. (2011). Sleep, circadian rhythms and metabolism. Metabolic Basis of Obesity, 229–255.
Wehrens, S. M., Christou, S., Isherwood, C., Middleton, B., Gibbs, M. A., Archer, S. N., ... & Johnston, J. D. (2017). Meal timing regulates the human circadian system. Current Biology, 27(12), 1768-1775.