Integrative Nutrition Blog

What You Need to Know About Chrono-nutrition and Meal Timing

February 24, 2018

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What we eat plays a major role in our health, but when we eat may be just as important. It turns out that even if two people eat the exact same foods and number of calories, an individual who eats most of his calories later in the day may be more prone to weight gain than someone who eats bigger meals earlier in the day.

Why does meal timing make such a difference?

Our bodies function in a cycle – known as the circadian rhythm – that helps oversee the regulatory processes each day. These patterns help the body run efficiently, but erratic eating habits, especially late-night eating, and altered sleep schedules can throw them out of whack. Even exposure to artificial light at night can affect the circadian rhythm. Fortunately, the body is highly adaptable. If you’ve ever traveled across multiple time zones, the jet lag you experienced is the body’s attempt to readjust its rhythm to the new schedule.

Still, some sleep/wake schedules and meal times may better support health than others. Historically, humans ate during daylight hours and slept during nighttime hours; their bodies would produce hormones to align with the needs of the particular time (e.g., producing melatonin at night and cortisol during the day). Now, however, modern living doesn’t always stick to the same schedule.

The following tips can help you align eating and sleeping habits to your body’s natural tendencies. You may not even need to switch your diet (although quality is certainly important!) – simply adjust your meal times to support optimal metabolism and reduce the risk of weight gain and obesity-related conditions.

1. Plan a nutritious break-fast. Many find themselves too busy to eat a significant breakfast and often grab something light on the go or wait until the next meal to eat. This often leads to eating more later in the day. Research shows that a higher-calorie breakfast and a lower-calorie dinner can help support weight loss and reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome.

For a filling and nutritious way to start your day, try avocado and a poached egg on a slice of whole-grain bread or oatmeal with pecans, coconut flakes, and berries.

2. Get on a regular sleeping schedule. Sleeping during daylight hours and working during nighttime hours may also impact metabolism, leading to a greater chance of putting on weight. In fact, because of this phenomenon, people who work the night shift may experience changes in weight, even if their diet stays the same.

Regardless of your schedule, try to get about eight hours of sleep per day – even better if it’s around the same time every day. Create a calm and dark space where you can wind down and settle into a restful sleep.

3. Eat smaller portions in the evening and enjoy larger portions of nutritious foods earlier in the day. Larger meals in the evening are customary in many cultures, especially in the United States, but switching to a more substantial lunch and eating less in the evening may help support weight loss and insulin sensitivity.

Experiment with smaller portions and lightened-up options for dinner, like a nutritious soup, an omelet, or a veggie-based bowl, and eating more “dinner-sized” meals for lunch.

What are your thoughts on chrono-nutrition? How would you feel about trying these tips? Share your thoughts!

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