When it comes to eating healthy, we always talk about what’s on our plate, but not what’s on the clock. The latest science is showing that when we eat is as important as what we eat. That’s because our metabolism actually changes throughout the day because of our circadian rhythm (your body’s clock, which tells your body to do the right thing at the right time).
Think of it like this: Your body is kind of like a play. Just because the curtain goes up doesn’t mean the show can start. Before that, there’s costume and makeup, audio and lighting, as well as props that need to be set and audiences that need to sit. If we started before everything was ready, the whole production would be out of whack.
Eating out of sync with your circadian rhythm can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and being overweight. But by aligning your food with your circadian rhythm, you can help maximize weight loss, energy and overall health.
So how do you do it? It all starts with the sun, which is what sets our circadian rhythm. That rhythm expects us to eat during the day when the sun is shining (because for long periods in past history we also didn’t have electricity and light bulbs) and fast during the night. In fact, some fascinating research has found that calories eaten in the morning might not actually count as much as those eaten at night. Human studies have shown that in dieters, people who eat most of their calories before 3 p.m. tend to lose more weight than people who eat most of their calories later.
We call this synchronized eating the When Way, and it has three simple rules.
1. Eat with the sun.
Most of us typically eat over a 15-hour window. Instead, eat only when the sun is up, since this is when your body wants you to eat. Ideally, that’s 12 hours between your last meal of the day and the first of the next day. (This is a form of intermittent fasting, which appears to have important health benefits for longevity. If you can stretch this “fasting” window out to 14 or 16 hours, that’s even better. Since you’re asleep for most of it, it’s actually not that hard.)
2. Eat more early and less later.
Make breakfast and lunch your biggest meals of the day, and dinner the smallest. Ideally you should get about 75 percent of your nutrition before 3 p.m.
3. Eat your dinner for breakfast or lunch.
Try eating dinner foods for breakfast or lunch (yes, a bowl of whole-grain pasta or salmon for breakfast!). If you do, you’ll probably find yourself feeling more satisfied, more energetic and less hungry throughout the day. Here is an example what a day following this diet could look like:
- For breakfast, whole-grain pasta with vegetables like broccoli or kale
- For lunch, salmon with vegetable sides like carrots or Brussels sprouts
- For dinner, a big salad with assorted vegetables, walnuts and pumpkin seeds
Give it a try for a week and see how you feel — the results may surprise you!
Learn about the When Way, including a 31-day plan to get started and how to use food to deal with over 30 life scenarios (a first date, being hangry, preventing cancer) in Dr. Crupain’s and Dr. Michael Roizen’s book, “What to Eat When.” You can follow them on Instagram @when.way and on the web at whenway.com.