What Time's Dinner? (And Breakfast, And Lunch …)
Oxygen|Spring 2019

You could actually improve your overall health (and shrink your waistline) just by changing when you eat. Read on to learn about the research so groundbreaking that it won the Nobel Prize.

Jenessa Connor, CPT

Midnight snacks, second breakfasts, latenight bites, midmorning nosh. As a culture, we eat around the clock, incorporating food into social gatherings, work hours and even downtime. Case in point: One study conducted by the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, California, asked participants to use a mobile app to track everything they ingested over the course of a day. More than half the participants reported eating for a span of 15 hours or longer — almost from the time they woke up until when they turned in for the night.

But is all-day dining a problem? If you stick to healthy, whole foods and keep an eye on your overall caloric intake, is there really any difference between eating three squares before 7 p.m. and nibbling on a dozen mini-meals right up to bedtime? As it turns out, when you eat is just as important as what you eat. Thought the explanation is hundreds of thousands of years old, scientists are just beginning to understand it, thanks to recent research on circadian rhythms and the body’s internal clock.

The Body Clock

The phenomenon known as the circadian rhythm is based on the rotation of the earth. As part of our species’ evolution, our bodies have adapted to daylight and nighttime, regulating certain biological functions accordingly — sleep, metabolism and hormone production, to name a few.

In 2017, three American scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery that all multicellular organisms — humans included — have so-called “clock” genes that dictate wake and sleep patterns. They found that these genes still continue to function even when the organism (a fruit fly, in this case) was kept in complete darkness, proving that our internal clock doesn’t just react to light and day — it actually keeps time along with it. And that internal timekeeper is very picky about when we should and should not be eating.

Timing Is Everything

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