As we head into the warmer weather of spring, some people feel the urge to lose a few pounds. But instead of counting calories, cutting carbs, or spending hours at the gym, I suggest you try something much, much simpler…
Focus on shortening the window of time when you eat.
Studies show this approach—called intermittent fasting—works quite well to help you drop unwanted pounds. It also helps boost your overall metabolism and improve your blood sugar control.
Plus, it naturally aligns with an important and ancient biological process…
Circadian rhythm should dictate activity and eating patterns
Millions of years ago, the first humans developed a natural, circadian rhythm—or sleep-wake cycle—that relates directly to the rotation (or turning) of the Earth on its axis. When the Earth faces the sun, the body would naturally wake for the day. And when the Earth faces away from the sun, the body would naturally wind down and go to sleep.
The circadian rhythm regulates many important biological processes in humans, including:
- Body temperature
- Cellular metabolism
- Energy levels
- Hormone production
- Insulin production
Of course, thanks to our modern technology, we now have 24-hour, unlimited access to restaurants, entertainment, gyms, and our work (at least until the pandemic). But when we engage in these activities around the clock…and flout our natural, circadian rhythm…our health suffers tremendously.
In fact, studies show men and women who work the night shift run much higher risks of developing cancer, mood disorders, obesity, and Type II diabetes.
Now, let’s delve a little deeper into circadian rhythm and eating, specifically…
Time-restricted eating improves health
Ancient Ayurvedic medicine of India links all health and disease to diet and digestion— and recommends only eating when the solar fires burn most brightly in the sky (beginning around 11 a.m. and going only until around 2 p.m.).
This kind of intermittent fasting or “time-restricted” eating has gotten a lot of attention in recent years. Basically, it means you shorten your “eating window” and increase the amount of time spent not eating during the day.
Most people already do one, natural, long fast during the night. Indeed, breakfast literally means, “break the fast.” And studies show that when you extend and enlarge that nighttime fasting window beyond eight hours, it helps you lose weight and avoid disease.
In fact, one modern study found that when you fast for 14 hours or more a day (and only eat between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., for example), most people reduce their calorie intake by 20 percent and achieve significant weight loss. (Personally, I’m not hungry when I first wake in the morning. So I typically wait a few hours before eating and naturally limit intake time to 14 hours duration or less.)
Indeed, skipping breakfast altogether may be the most important step you can take for your health. (Just don’t expect an admission from the purveyors of packaged, processed breakfast cereals…who still insist breakfast is the “most important meal of the day.”)
But here’s the really interesting part…
Smaller eating window optimizes your metabolism
Calorie reduction alone doesn’t entirely explain why people lose weight and improve blood sugar control during an extended fast. In fact, science show that keeping a shorter eating window, which coincides with the natural, circadian rhythm, actually helps your body operate more efficiently and boosts your metabolism…so you naturally burn more calories!
Of course, it remains unclear if there’s an “optimal” time of day to engage in exercise. Though, some studies suggest exercising right before bed impairs melatonin production—required for you to wind down and fall asleep. But other than that, feel free to engage in a schedule that suits your personal preferences.
Just remember that the science shows you need to engage in just 140 to 150 minutes of physical activity total per week to boost your overall health and longevity. And housework and yardwork all count toward that weekly total!
So, in the end, strive to eat your first meal of the day later in the day…and your last meal of the day earlier in the day. Then, aim to get your exercise somewhere in between.
P.S. For more research that connects the timing of when we eat to overall health, check out the September 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“When you eat can dictate your health”). Not yet a subscriber? Click here now to become one today!
“A Time to Eat and a Time to Exercise.” Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews, January 2020; 48(1): 4-10. doi: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000207