Nutrition

Timing is everything (part 1: food)

Meyken Houppermans
Founder and Head Coach
A calorie is not always a calorie. People who eat late atnight or on irregular hours are more often overweight, even if they eat less. Not only what you eat matters, but also when you eat it. How can that be explained?

Biological clock

Our daily lives are structured by a 24-hour timeframe and by day and night. When the sun rises and it gets light, we wake up and start ourday. When the sun goes down and it gets dark, we end our day and go to bed. At least most of us. Despite this pretty clear 24-hour structure, some of us are more energetic and productive in the morning, while others flourish at night. This has everything to do with our biological clock.

Circadian rhythms

Our biological clock is the natural timing device that regulates our so-called circadian rhythms: natural physical, mental and emotional processes in our body in respond to light and dark (day and night). Circadian rhythms are also known as the sleep- wake cycle. Every tissue and organ in our body has a biological clock, and all clocks are coordinated by a master clock in our brain that receives input from our eyes (light).

Circadian rhythms influence several processes in our body among which hormone release, eating habits, digestion and metabolism. Several factors such as a jet lag, evening shifts at work, blue light from our phone and24/7 light from buildings in our environment, can change circadian rhythms. These changes can have severe consequences: Sleep disorders, obesity, diabetes type 2 and mental health issues (NIGMS, 2020).

Get in the rhythm

Although a ‘calendar day’ takes exactly 24 hours, a cycle according to our biological clock takes a bit longer. To get both clocks aligned a bit better, our biological clock responds to light and dark but also to food.

Eating at irregular or ‘unusual’ times, for example in the middle of the night, has the same disruptive effect as having to deal with light at unusual times for example at night when you are supposed to be asleep.This messes up our biological clock and therefore the physical, mental and emotional processes in our body. To put is simple: If you eat in the middle of the night your digestive system and metabolism aren’t ready to do their job yet and the food you eat isn’t processed effectively.

Weight gain, obesity, diabetes type 2, sleep disorders, depression and several other health issues can be prevented if we keep our biological clock aligned with the 24-hour structure as much as possible (Wageningen University, 2019; Pot, 2020).

How to do that?

1. Eat at set times

Try to eat at set times during the day with at least three hours between every meal. Grazing all day messes up our biological clock as well.

2. Adjust to your nature

Adjust your meals to your natural rhythm: if you are a morning person you might need a bit more energy in the morning by eating a proper breakfast. If you are an evening person, you might need a bit more energy during the day, with a smaller breakfast but a proper lunch. In any case, eating a heavy meal at the end of the day is not a good idea since our metabolism doesn’t operate as optimally.

Create your own health!©