In part two of this series, we want to shift gears a bit... We’ve talked about what you eat, and we’ve stated that that’s just a singular part of the overarching equation when it comes to making conscious choices about food.
When you eat is also a major factor of the equation. We often think about improving our meals and snacks in terms of adjusting portion sizes, adding extra servings of fruits/veggies, and cutting down on processed foods.
What we often don’t think about is adjusting when we eat.
Of course, many of us have heard when we were children that we should not eat junk food late at night or you’ll have bad dreams; but, there is more to this idea of eating schedules than just what we were told as kids.
Chronobiologist Emily Manoogian says that when we eat can have just as much of an impact on our lives as changing what we eat. Because of our circadian rhythm, our bodies run on a 24-hour clock- right down to the cellular level. This is what makes us alert when we wake up, feel tired at the end of the day, helps us to properly digest food, and allows our organs to rest and repair themselves while we sleep.
In our interconnected and highly stimulated world of technology and streaming, our circadian rhythms are often in need of assistance. Light and food are the two biggest cues you can give your body so it knows what time of day it is. These were once reliable cues for our ancestors, but as we’ve achieved certain technological advancements these cues can be more confusing for our bodies than ever.
When light and food sources are available around the clock, we’re obviously more prone to utilize them. This can disrupt our circadian rhythm and lead to issues with falling asleep, craving certain foods at odd times of the day, and improper digestion.
Such disruptions are associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, on top of other side effects such as weight gain and difficulty sleeping. The World Health Organization even has it listed as a possible carcinogen when it becomes a regular feature of one’s lifestyle.
Emily Manoogian emphasizes keeping your body on a schedule so that it knows what it needs to do. This applies even to the weekend, a time when many of us feel it is an opportunity to stay up late because we can “make up for it” by sleeping in on Saturday and Sunday.
Manoogian suggests practicing “time-restricted eating” where you eat within the same 10 hour window each day. This means that the clock starts when you eat the first item of the day- whether that be at 6 AM or 12 PM is up to you, but keep in mind that you should have your last snack/meal at least 2-3 hours before you go to bed. This helps to ensure that your body digests it properly and your organs can rest and repair while you sleep. Water and black coffee does not count; however, so if you’d like to postpone your window in the morning then feel free to start with a tall glass of water and a cup of joe. Additionally, infused water at night is just fine. And if you feel like you need something after your last meal of the day, throw some watermelon, lime, or cucumber in your water to help curb late night cravings.
The most important component of this time-restricted eating schedule is sticking to a routine. Of course, when we suggest sticking to Manoogian’s eating window, we are not saying you can never sleep in or have a late night out with friends again. Just, keep in mind that consistency is key so make sure to get back on track the next day when events such as these occur.
You’ll find it much easier to get back into the swing of things after a busy weekend once this schedule has become a part of your routine and has been integrated into your lifestyle.
Our bodies rely on routines, especially in regards to eating and sleeping. In her Ted Talk on the body’s “master clock,” Manoogian talks about the benefits of such routine stating, “Time-restricted eating … can improve glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity, can lead to about a 5 percent weight loss, improves endurance and decreases blood pressure.”
Once again, we want to emphasize that our advice is not set into stone. If you find that the 10-hour window just doesn’t work for your set routine and lifestyle, that’s okay! First and foremost we recommend eating intuitively and really listening to the signals your body gives you about what it needs. From there, you can determine what times and what schedule works best for you.
The main takeaway we hope you’ll derive from this is that when you eat can be just as important as what you eat. Leaving about 10 hours in the evening and early morning hours for fasting gives your body time to rest so that it can function properly. However, if you do find yourself out with friends or just simply craving something sweet late at night, you should not stigmatize breaking the routine every once in a while. Treating yourself is fine! Just keep in mind that moderation and consistency are key.
Check back here for part three of the series, where we’ll be talking about another aspect of the conscious eating equation. We’ll be discussing the importance of who you eat your meals with, so let us know who you typically eat with in the comments below! And let us know what you think about the series so far!