Healthy Eating: Not Just ‘What’, Rather ‘When’ You Eat Matters Too

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Healthy eating is not about strict nutrition philosophies, staying unrealistically thin, or depriving yourself of the foods you love. Rather, it’s about feeling great, having more energy, stabilizing your mood, and keeping yourself as healthy as possible. When it comes to weight gain, when you eat might be at least as important as what you eat. Every organ has a clock. That means there are times that our livers, intestines, muscles, and other organs will work at peak efficiency and other times when they are more or less sleeping. Those metabolic cycles are critical for processes from cholesterol breakdown to glucose production, and they should be primed to turn on when we eat and back off when we don’t, or vice versa. When we eat randomly, those genes aren’t on completely or off completely. The principle is just like it is with sleep and waking. If we don’t sleep well at night, we aren’t completely awake during the day, and we work less efficiently as a consequence.

When organisms on a high-fat diet are restricted to eating for eight hours per day, they eat just as much as those who can eat around the clock, yet they are protected against obesity and other metabolic ills. Health consequences of a poor diet might result in part from a mismatch between our body clocks and our eating schedules. When people eat frequently throughout the day and night, it can throw off those normal metabolic cycles. Also, to set yourself up for success, think about planning a healthy diet as a number of small, manageable steps rather than one big drastic change. If you approach the changes gradually and with commitment, you will have a healthy diet sooner than you think.

There is reason to think our eating patterns have changed in recent years, as many people have greater access to food and reasons to stay up into the night, even if just to watch TV. And when people are awake, they tend to snack. Restricted meal times might be an underappreciated lifestyle change to help people keep off the pounds. At the very least this is a factor in the obesity epidemic that should be given more careful consideration. Remember, healthy eating is about more than the food on your plate—it is also about how you think about food and when you eat. Healthy eating habits can be learned and it is important to slow down and think about food as nourishment rather than just something to gulp down in between meetings or on the way to pick up the kids.