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Tips for healthful eating.
Tips for healthful eating.

Have you ever been told to avoid eating after 6 p.m., not eat fruit or only shop the perimeter of the grocery store in order to be healthier or lose weight? There are so many food rules promoted by pop diet culture that it’s hard to tell what is bogus and what is based in science. While 6 p.m. is an arbitrary time to stop eating, there is emerging evidence that the timing of our food might be more important than we thought.

A recent study published in Cell Metabolism found that eating later may have profound effects on the hunger and appetite-regulating hormones, leptin and ghrelin. Levels of leptin, which signals satiety, were decreased in those who ate late compared to those who ate early. Also, those who ate later burned calories at a slower rate and showed signs of increased adipogenesis (creation of fat) and decreased lipolysis (breakdown of fat), promoting fat growth.

While these results are consistent with previous research, they shed light on the mechanisms by which eating late may contribute to an unintentional gain in body fat and decreased success with weight loss. Factors like total calorie intake, physical activity, daily light exposure and sleep were controlled for in the study. There was a four-hour time difference between the early and late eating schedules.

Another study published last month in Experimental Physiology found that sleep and wake cycles can lead to metabolic differences. Researchers found that those who go to bed later may have a reduced ability to use stored body fat for energy, resulting in a buildup of fat in the body and an increased risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Metabolic differences in fat metabolism between the “early birds” and the “night owls” reveals that circadian rhythm or the sleep-wake cycle may impact how the body uses the hormone insulin. An impaired ability to respond to insulin has major implications for our health. Plus, early risers were found to be more physically active and fit compared to late risers.

While science continues to emerge to shape our understanding of how eating and sleeping patterns impact body composition, hormone health and risk for chronic disease, there are steps that we can take now to incorporate these science-based findings into a balanced lifestyle.

Meal Prep for an Earlier Dinnertime

Busy schedules and a lack of planning can lead to eating dinner later than intended. Preparing meals ahead of time can help get food on the table quicker leading to an earlier eating schedule overall. Having meal components prepped and ready to go can significantly cut down on cooking time.

Practice Mindfulness to Reduce Late Night Snacking

Staying up late and watching television can lead to excess snacking. Practice mindful eating strategies to help determine if your bedtime snack has the purpose of satisfying hunger or may simply just be a habit that’s getting in the way of your healthy lifestyle goals. Journaling or meditating in the evening can help you connect with your physical and emotional needs as a first step in breaking any unwanted snacking habits.

Train Yourself to Go to Sleep Earlier

Have you ever wanted to go to bed earlier than usual, but found yourself just lying in bed wide awake? Improving sleep schedules can take time and patience. Making small, incremental changes in your sleep schedule can help you train yourself to sleep earlier. For example, if you usually go to bed at midnight, but want to change your bedtime to 10:30 pm, first push up your bedtime to 11:45 pm. Once you adjust to that time, push it up to 11:30 pm and so on until your body adjusts to falling asleep at 10:30 pm.

Maintaining a healthy weight and preventing chronic disease often takes a multifaceted lifestyle approach including nutrition, physical activity and stress management. It is interesting and useful to know that the timing of our food intake and sleep may be additional factors we can control to optimize our health.

LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at RD@halfacup.com.

Originally Published:

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