It turns out that not only what we eat can be a major determinant on our health, but when we eat may be just as significant. The term chrononutrition refers to just that; when we eat. Here’s what the research says…
When we’re busy, our dietary habits can take a major hit – either we’re skipping meals and then making up for them later or maybe the stress of our schedule is leading us to indulge in higher calorie foods in search for a bit of comfort in the storm (I had my fair share of chocolate chip biscotti when I was finishing my Master’s – thanks Recess). Either way, our dietary habits are likely to begin matching the chaos of our surrounding environments leading to a cascade of health issues over time.
As our schedules get more hectic and our eating habits become more irregular, our bodies’ natural rhythms are challenged. These disrupted circadian rhythms can be caused by irregular and late night meals, overdoing it with caffeine, working late or night shifts, extensive travel and wonky sleep habits. Since our circadian rhythms affect how our food is metabolized and utilized when they get offtrack, we may be more susceptible to weight gain, a decline in dietary quality, impaired glucose tolerance and insulin sensitivity and other parameters associated with metabolic syndrome. Impaired circadian rhythms and stress are also shown to be associated with reduced leptin, the hormone that suppresses our appetite and helps us feel satiated – overtime, this is likely to lead to also contribute to weight gain putting us more at risk for disease.
The good news is, there are a few things that you can do to align your eating habits with your body’s natural rhythms…
- Avoid large meals in the evening. In the US, dinner tends to be our biggest meal, but a more substantial meal earlier in the day and something lighter in the evening may be the healthier choice.
- Don’t skip breakfast – even if you’re not a “breakfast person” consuming food earlier in the day may help to reduce food consumption later on.
- Even when things get crazy, do what you can to make sleep a priority. I know it’s tough (and I’m guilty of this one), but the benefits of a good night’s sleep are incredibly valuable and may outweigh that extra hour or two of work.
- When possible, try to have a plan for your meals – leaving things up to fate sometimes means leaving things up to Seamless (been there).
Shauna MS RD