I usually write about what to eat, but timing is important too.
Your body doesn’t just gear up to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light; every part of it has control clocks.
Artificial light means we can eat from pre-dawn until midnight nowadays. Unfortunately, this disrupts our circadian rhythm and is bad for our health.
It’s best to eat during the day when levels of digestive enzymes are high and your liver and gut are ready to deal with food. In the evening, saliva production slows down. Also, if anything enters the stomach, there’s more acid produced. Your gut slows down for nightly repairs – but repair is difficult if food is still passing through – it’s like trying to re-tarmac a road with traffic still flowing. It’s better to stop eating 2 or 3 hours before bed.
I’m in favour of working with your body, so Prof Satchin Panda’s research on Time Restricted Eating struck a chord. (Listen to Dr Rangan Chatterjee interviewing Prof Panda here.) An 8-10 hour window has been found in the lab to protect against (and to improve existing) obesity, heart disease, diabetes, fatty liver disease, cholesterol and high blood sugar. Prof Panda recognises that we don’t have a choice when we get up; we have jobs to go to and children to take to school. But we can choose when we eat.
I like to try things out. Initially it felt weird starting work early then having breakfast at 9:30am but months into my self-experiment, I feel great. After 7:30pm I don’t eat – that’s a 10h window. Even a 12h window gives benefits, say 7am to 7pm. Give it a try and find out how you feel working with your body’s rhythms. (Check with your doctor about effects on medication.) There’s also a global study you can take part in via an app (mycircadianclock.org).
Top tip – Give Time Restricted Eating a try