It’s not about what you eat here, but WHEN you eat.
1- Time restricted feeding — Taking a break from eating so your body can digest, have a stretch of time when blood sugars are low, and get to the business of burning fat. Often, we mindlessly eat and snack all through the day and into the night, always pumping our body with quick access to energy. With this constant consumption of available energy, we are always in storage and build mode without a chance to enter fat breakdown mode. Remember, that’s what humans are great at, dealing with periods of little access to food. It’s important to let our metabolism take a breather. The most popular way to do this is the 8, 16 diet: eating all daily calories in an 8-hour window and not eating for 16 hours (sleep counts). The 8,16 way of eating has shown promise for weight loss and maintenance, but even taking a 10–12 hour break from eating and consuming calories is helpful and healthful.
2 – Eat with the sun — Your metabolism has a circadian rhythm. Just as you get sleepy at night when the sun goes down and melatonin increases (melatonin is the hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle), so does every cell in your body. That means that if you eat a lot of energy at night, your cells and digestion will not break down the food as well, as your body and digestion want to rest just as much as you do. In fact, it has been shown that cells are less sensitive to insulin at night (insulin is the hormone that allows energy into cells), which means your blood sugar stays higher for longer after a nighttime meal, and gets stored and converted to fat more easily than if you had eaten that meal in the day, when your cells are awake and ready to use that fuel. Eating at night is like filling up your gas tank without driving anywhere, and letting the gas corrode the engine vs. hitting the gas pedal and using that fresh gas in the daytime. Many of us also make less healthy choices at night as our discipline and willpower is low. We use food to soothe rather than fulfill actual physiological hunger. Now, every so often we will have to break this rule. Many festivities occur at night, and we can’t miss those moments of joy often around food and drink. But in general when the sun goes down, the kitchen closes, or closes as soon as possible. In my house, the kitchen is closed by 6:30pm.
3 – Eat a satisfying breakfast and lunch. Eat a light dinner. Breakfast is a great time to provide your body with energy, as we all have a cortisol spike in the morning about an hour after rising — also called the dawn phenomenon. Cortisol is a stress hormone that circulates fat through our system to give us immediate energy, but unfortunately deposits the circulating fat in the abdomen if we are sedentary. This is also a great reason to exercise around meals. You will burn the circulating fat instead of absorbing it back into your body. We want as little cortisol to be released to start our day. Good ways to blunt that morning cortisol spike are that morning workout or … breakfast. A good breakfast will blunt cortisol, and give your body energy when your cells are awake, low on fuel, and ready to receive energy after your longest break from eating during night time sleep. Lunch should be a good satisfying meal, full of fiber, as you want to maintain a feeling of fullness and energy through the afternoon. Ideally, eat your lunch and sit down. It takes a lot of gut energy to digest food, and your gut nervous system will sequester that energy. This is why we often feel sleepy after lunch and many cultures take a siesta. After-lunch sleepiness should be welcomed and is totally normal! Your brain will want to rest during digestion, as we need some chill time to honor the digestive system’s heroic daily job of digestion.Then dinner should be early and light to honor your body’s natural sleep-wake cycle starting to turn toward sleep.
So, to recap: 1 – Have a window of time when you allow your body to go into its natural breakdown cycle, and take anywhere from a 10–16 hour break daily from consuming calories. Ideally, you don’t skip breakfast but finish consuming calories as soon as possible, in the early evening around when the sun goes down.
2 – Eat with the sun. Fuel your body in daylight hours, when your body is primed to burn and use the energy .
3 – Eat breakfast about an hour after waking up. Eat a fiber-rich lunch. Eat a light dinner to honor your body’s sleep-wake cycle.
I’ll go into more depth later on about the specific foods I think are important to give the best fuel for our body and how those specific foods relate to overall health, weight loss, and energy. Later, we will also be learning the possible health benefits of taking strategic longer breaks from eating, anywhere from 1–5 days, which is also known as intermittent fasting. But I like to start with these golden rules because there are no restrictions on types of foods, so anyone can adopt them without sacrificing the foods they love.
So, aim to do these three things as part of your habit, and be more thoughtful about choosing WHEN you eat and the size of each meal. Did you allow your body to get into a fat-burning zone by taking a long enough break between meals? Will you be storing or burning energy after the last meal? If you fail on some days to follow these rules, well that’s OK. No problem. The key is to be mindful day to day and generally eat in a way that honors your body’s natural rhythms and wishes from the inside out.