Does it matter what time you eat?
If you have ever wondered why breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you may be surprised to learn that it’s not just about filling up for the morning ahead. It is down to your circadian rhythm.
Circadian rhythms are the physiological changes in the body that respond primarily to light and darkness. They can also cause hormonal changes, which can, in turn, affect how the body breaks down fat.
Tamara Duker Freuman, a nutritionist who promotes “the circadian-synced diet”, explains the link between circadian rhythm and weight loss:
"Because of circadian rhythms, there are variations in certain hormone levels, enzyme levels and glucose transporters at different parts of the day, which differentially affect how calories, carbohydrates and fat are metabolised. These changes ultimately affect weight, cholesterol levels and blood sugar control”.
Daylight hours help promote the body’s metabolism, whilst evening hours inhibit it, meaning midnight snacking is a big no-no if weight loss is your main objective.
Here are some top tips on the best times to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Always eat breakfast
While skipping a meal may seem like a quick and easy route to weight loss, it actually limits the body’s fat burning capabilities.
Those of you who enjoy a large breakfast can rejoice, as studies have found that those who eat high-calorie breakfasts lose about two and half times more weight than those who consume high calorie dinners. They also lost over four more inches around their waist.
According to Freuman, breakfast should contain a minimum of 300 calories so that it satiates the body enough for the rest of the day. A breakfast that is high in fibre and protein is digested slowly, so you can feel fuller for longer.
“We have seen that people who eat more during the earlier part of the day feel more satiated in the evening, and there are actually differences in their hunger and satiety hormones ... and this seems to contribute to weight loss success. If you are not hungry when you wake up, you can defer breakfast for a few hours -- but it should not be skipped”, says Freuman.
Keep healthy snacks close by
Snacking doesn’t have to be mindless, especially if you are following your body’s circadium rhythm, Freuman explains that, if lunch and dinner are more than five hours apart, you really should be reaching for a snack.
A healthy, wholesome snack of no more than 200 calories should help see you through to dinner, preventing a binge later in the day. Try something high in protein and fibre, such as an apple with a tablespoon of nut butter, or plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit for a healthy treat.
Avoid eating after dark
According to researchers, we should base our eating habits around when the sun is up, rather than when we wake up and go to sleep. Freuman explains why it is sunlight, not shut-eye, that affects how our bodies metabolise food:
"These different metabolic processes ebb and flow at different times of the day, and they play a role in how your body metabolizes food energy, which ultimately affects your weight, cholesterol levels and blood sugar control -- and so it has tremendous implications for what is considered optimal times for eating. This means that, even if you are awake during most of the night, you still want to be eating most of your calories during daylight. Sleep has little to do with it," says Freuman.
If you work night shifts, eating during the day may be a tough ask. However, if you can, try to eat at least one meal during daylight hours.