Food Clock: It's Not Just What You Eat, But When You Eat That Counts

It’s not just the high calorie foods that we eat over the festive period which contribute to our expanding waist lines nor is it the sheer volume of food we manage to put away, the timing of our meals is also a leading factor in weight gain. Abnormal eating habits over Christmas encourage unhealthy eating patterns, increased hunger and cause our all important circadian clock a lot of issues.

If the sinful magnitude of festive eating sends your body into absolute overload, you are not the only one. People who are suffering from jet lag, working the night shift or who have a habit of snacking in the middle of the night know exactly how you feel.

All of these activities upset our body’s ‘food clock’ leading to weight gain, metabolic upset, low energy levels and much more.

Biological clocks are complex, composed of multiple interacting genes which switch on or off in an orchestrated way to keep us in sync. These workings are governed by a circadian oscillator or ‘master clock’ which keeps track of time and coordinates our biological processes with the rhythm of a 24 hour cycle of day and night. As well as this ‘master clock’ our bodies have other clocks working in parallel throughout the day. One of which is the food clock.

The food clock helps us to make the most of nutritional intake. It controls gene expression and oscillating hormone levels which drive and suppress appetite. These variants are responsible for everything from nutrient absorption to the dispersal of nutrients in the bloodstream. The food clock is designed to anticipate our eating patterns and act accordingly to maximise our digestive efficiency.

Even before we consume a meal, our bodies begin to activate some of these genes and deactivate others, preparing for the ingestion of food. This goes someway to explaining why we feel hunger pangs at similar times each day. Each organ in our body has peak times (where it is most efficient) and rest times. This enables all of our organs to function optimally and dial it down a notch in each 24 hour cycle.

If we eat at strange times or consume food too frequently, the cycle becomes completely mismatched which leaves our bodies struggling to cope with the imbalance. Much like when a sleep cycle is disrupted, food cycle disruptions make you feel sluggish and unable to function efficiently. These feelings of fatigue can invoke a vicious cycle whereby we try to eat more or at times our body does not expect in order to boost our energy levels. However, studies suggest that 24 hour periods of starvation can help to ‘reset’ the circadian clock from the first meal we consume after the fasting period. This can help alleviate the issues associated with night shift working and jet lag.

The combination of massive portions, lots of starchy carbs, foods high in saturated fat and strange eating patterns are a lethal cocktail for rapid weight gain. Settle yourself into a healthy eating pattern and you will find that your energy levels will rise and those excess pounds will begin to disappear. Whether you are a fan of intermittent fasting, 5-6 small meals a day or the classic 3 meals a day, keep a consistent circadian cycle and your body will instinctively know when it is food o’clock.

About the Author

Job Role Sports Nutritionist and Social Media Coordinator Qualifications Bsc Sport and Exercise Science Steph has a competitive athletic background which spans 19 years. As a child she performed with the English Youth Ballet and had performed on the West End stage by the age of 10. Her enthusiasm for sport and fitness continued to grow as she did, encouraging her to learn more about nutrition and training. She began using her knowledge and personal experience to help others when she began coaching at the age of 16. From here, she went on to study Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Essex during which time she also received the Most Promising Newcomer Award from her University to mark her outstanding contribution to sport. During her first year of study she was introduced to partner stunt acrobatics and artistic gymnastics. After one year of dedicating herself to a lifestyle revolving around her sport, she was training with the best team in the UK who are currently ranked fifth in the world. Steph has worked in both the private and public sector coaching children and adults from grassroot to elite level as well as providing them with cutting edge advice on how to reach their goals. Steph has received awards for her choreography and has competed nationally and internationally meaning that she can back up her scientific knowledge with a wealth of experience. As our resident Sports Nutritionist, Steph is here to provide the most current and evidence based fitness, health and nutrition information to help you reach your health and fitness goals.
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