Recently, my husband was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
I have hounded him for years about his erratic eating times, warning him it would catch up to him someday. A few months after receiving the diagnosis there have been at least three compelling articles published about the circadian rhythm and how it relates to food and health. According to him it “made sense,” now if I can get him to adopt regular meal times and not having dessert five minutes before bed!
Our world is governed by external clocks — watches, alarms, appointments, transportation, family scheduling and the list go on. All the while the majority of us forget about the most important clock, our internal clock, without which we wouldn’t be able to be a slave to the external demands.
The body’s clock controls sleep, hormonal regulation, body temperature, alertness and digestion. We have evolved to be in sync with the Earth’s rotation of a 24-hour period with times of light and darkness. This pattern is called the circadian rhythm, circa meaning around and diem meaning day. These rhythms are “coded” in every cell, are capable of adjusting to the local environment and are synched with the seasonal and tidal rhythms.
Researchers have identified when the circadian rhythm is out of sync with lifestyle choices, we risk serious issues with mental and physical health. Risks include obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
So how do you reset your internal clock? The first step is to revisit the caveman era. Without electricity, they were ruled by the sun, arose with the light, worked at finding food and retired at dark, an approximate 12 hour span. Studies done with groups being allowed to eat any time in a 24-hour cycle versus those with a restricted window of eating of 9-12 hours, showed the 24-hour group became overweight and metabolically ill while the restricted group remained lean and healthy.
More interesting, when the 24-hour group switched to the 9-12 hour protocol, they lost weight gained. Our ancestors at times could not find food, so they went a period of time “fasting.” More studies are supporting at least a 12-hour fast daily, consuming all of your food during the daylight hours has strong benefits to health.
Our natural clock is also more efficient at breaking down macronutrients at certain times of the day for fuel and energy resources. Carbohydrates are metabolized more efficiently in the morning and early afternoon. Irregular eating patterns upset the liver’s ability to efficiently produce glucose thus leads to higher blood sugar levels. At night the body is in a regenerative and restorative phase. The peak of the regeneration occurs at about 12 hours of fasting.
The process begins with housekeeping — removal of toxins, damaged proteins and waste that is removed from the cells. Then regeneration and repair at the cellular level occurs during the fasting period. This step is essential to the maintenance of health.
So before you make the leap to the keto diet or strict fasting, know that even small changes can reap large results. A study group modified their eating hours from 14-15 available hours a day to 10. They ate normal foods and did not change their exercise habits. Over 16 weeks they lost 4 percent of their body weight and reported improved energy and more satisfying sleep.
After a year, most were still adhering to the 10-hour eating window. Following the natural light-dark cycle will automatically get you on an 8-12 hour eating cycle. This will enhance health benefits of the body’s natural regenerative period.
— Robin Gaudette is the aquatics wellness coordinator at the Redmond Area Park and Recreation District. Contact her at email@example.com .