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Does it really matter when I eat?

Does it really matter when I eat?

In short, yes.  This is because our eating behaviour influences our circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm is our body clock. It works on a 24 hour cycle and affects our sleep/wake cycle, metabolism, when we get hungry and many other body systems. If this is out of sync, we tend to eat more and weigh more.

We can influence this cycle with exposure to light and darkness and by adjusting when we eat. By eating, sleeping and living in line with this natural 24 hour cycle we are able to rebalance various hormones and digest and use our food more effectively.

For example, we know that eating carbohydrates an hour within waking isn’t great. This is because cortisol (one of the stress hormones) is highest around 8am and this makes your body less sensitive to insulin making us less able to process food shortly after waking. For similar reasons, also aim to finish your last meal least 3 hours before bedtime.

In simple terms we should be eating when it’s light outside and not eating when it’s dark. This is harder than it sounds due to artificial light and an almost constant access to food making it easier than ever to ignore this day/night cycle. It is common to eat and snack our way through most of our waking hours, often starting before dawn and/or finishing after dusk. This reality is turning many of us into `sugar burners’.

Predominantly burning sugar for energy in its various forms matters because we have evolved to grow (build new cells, create more cells) when we burn sugar and repair (fix cells, remove old parts of cells) when we burn fat. Too much time burning sugar and being in grow mode is associated with weight gain, low energy levels and many age related diseases. Eating too much, too often, of the wrong things (excessive carbs or protein) results in higher levels of insulin being present in the body. With higher insulin levels, our bodies cannot tap into our fat stores for energy or move into repair mode.

Intermittent Fasting plans where all meals are eaten within a set amount of hours each day, can help redress this balance by mimicking how we ate before artificial light and food became easily accessible. This form of Intermittent Fasting is called Time Restricted Eating.

A simple way of doing this is to set an eating window from when you will eat your first bite of food to when you will finish your last each day, such as 8am to 8pm. A daily fast of anything over 12 hours is associated with a better balance and the good news, you will be sleeping for about 8 of those.

For those of you interested in weight or fat loss, working up to an eating window of 8 hours or less is associated with the best weight loss results such as 8am to 4pm. You can choose the 8 hours that works for you but try and close it by finishing your last meal at least 3 hours before bed.

Within your eating window, gaps in eating are also important. Ideally you are looking to leave 5 hours or more between meals. So for those on an 8 hour plan, you are working towards 2 larger meals per day only.

If daytime eating doesn’t fit your lifestyle for whatever reason, having a later eating window can still help. For example in one study late night eaters who skipped breakfast and fasted until lunch time managed to offset the risk of Type 2 Diabetes and obesity normally associated with late night eating. In other studies, having a fasting window longer than your eating window (more than 12 hours) and aiming to eat the majority of your calories earlier in your eating window helped offset the late night eating/ obesity link normally associated with late night eating.

The main mistakes to watch out for

Forgetting that even the little things start the clock and open the eating window.

Milk in tea, green juices, small snacks, any calories in fact ALL start the clock.

If your main focus is on fat burning and repair, then a small amount healthy fat is ok as although it starts your clock, you are still burning fat and in cellular repair mode. Many people find this useful if they are struggling because having a small amount of fat, such as coconut oil or FASTING+, they feel less hungry and can still get the fat burning and repair benefits as their body adjusts. It’s also a great transition tactic for those trying to shorten their fasting window or trying to take their plan up a notch.

Turning the eating window into one extended eating occasion.

Gaps between meals matter with a 5 hour gap between meals ideal. For those likely to struggle with this, rather than diving straight it to your new Intermittent Fasting regime, try getting used to 3 meals per day and no snacks before you start. As motivation, studies show that more than 3 meals per day is associated with a higher BMI (body mass index). Replacing any snacks with FASTING+ for a few weeks is a great approach as it won’t spike insulin and will help you break that snacking habit.

Eating even more calories than normal and expecting to lose weight.

This might be possible if you have just one meal a day, maybe.  In a recent mouse study, mice that ate once a day stayed lean however much they ate if they were limited to one meal during a 24 hour period but we will have to wait to see if this translates to us humans.

Useful tips

-          During fasting window you can still have green tea and black coffee. Upgrade to the best you can afford and savour it.

-          If you are struggling with the gaps between meals or trying to shorten your eating window, try FASTING+ by Nutritionist’s Blend. This 100% natural blend of healthy fats and specific polyphenols works with how the body naturally fasts to help sort any niggling signs of hunger, grumpiness or tiredness you may be experiencing during those transitions.

Useful caveats

As with all fasting regimes, Time Restricted Eating plans are not right for everyone as some people shouldn’t be having long gaps between meals.

-          Children, pregnant people, those who have or had an eating disorder such as anorexia/bulimia, those recovering from adrenal fatigue or Type 1 diabetics should not attempt these regimes

-          For those with Type 2 Diabetes, thyroid conditions, nursing mothers or those with other underlying medical conditions please seek medical advice first before attempting these regimes as medication may need adjusting, extra guidance may be required on which version is most appropriate for you and you may feel the adjustment to any plan more acutely than others so you may need extra support. Seeking advice from a Nutritional Therapist or other health professional could be of benefit especially if you fit in the latter two catagories.

-          If you are over 70 years old and new to fasting, the science has not yet proven if Intermittent Fasting is good for you. Instead aim to eat 3 meals within 12 hours and ensure you are getting a good amount of high quality protein.

For those of you that decide to try Time Restricted Eating, good luck and take one day at a time.

Happy Fasting x