When Do We Eat?

Eating Habits

What time is it? When do we eat?

Did you get enough sleep last night? Are you still at work at 7 pm? Our daily schedules are ruled by the clock on the wall. Our bodies are ruled by the clock but that clock isn’t on the wall. We have an internal timekeeping device that is located in the hypothalamus deep inside your brain. This device isn’t a Timex. It doesn’t take a lickin’ and keep on tickin’.

If this timekeeping device gets beat up constantly, it can cause some serious health problems in your body.

The name of this device is called the suprachiasmatic nuclei (SCN).  It is our body’s master timekeeper. The SCN controls our body’s natural rhythms. Everything in our body is controlled by the SCN. It regulates hormones, body temperature, sleep, physical activity, immune function, and digestion. This master timekeeper is responsible for coordinating the other 37 trillion cellular clocks in our body. 

For over 2 million years, we have evolved and lived by the daily light and dark rhythms of the Earth’s rotation. Our metabolism and biochemistry have always been in tune with this cycle.  Our behavior and psychological patterns are following a 24-hour cycle with the Earth.

This pattern in the human body is known as the circadian rhythm. 

Chronobiologists began studying our internal body clocks 20 years ago. What they found was that external factors affect the function of our circadian rhythm. These external factors are called zeitgebers which translates to “time cues” in German. These factors include light, darkness, temperature, time zones. This should start to make sense when you think about how out of sync you feel when daylight savings time begins.  

A clock gene was identified in 1994 and this gene’s function is to activate certain elements for circadian rhythms. Further studies in the ’90s found that certain genes regulate the body clock. Researchers have found how light synchronizes with the clock. These discoveries have lead to a further understanding of body clocks in other organisms.  These body clocks function the same way as they do in humans at the cellular level. We are beginning to understand how plants, animals, and humans respond and adapt their biological rhythms to the Earth’s rotations. These findings were so profound that a Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2017 for the collective groundbreaking findings. These findings have developed into a new biological research field that involves how the body clock affects health and well-being. These rhythms are in every cell in our body and they affect many biological processes. For our bodies to run efficiently, these rhythms need to stay intact.

When we consistently skip meals and have irregular sleep patterns, this disrupts our body’s natural rhythms. This constant disruption affects our health and well-being tremendously. We run the risk of developing diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. 

You know that a sedentary lifestyle, relentless stress, chaotic eating, and late-night smartphone usage affects your health.  

How do you get your clock rhythm back and get it back in sync? The best way to start is to start eating! 

It should be obvious to you that making some headway in cleaning up your diet will help and that is certainly true.  Did you ever think about meal timing?  I’m not talking about eating 3 big meals a day with 2 snacks in between. There is much more to meal timing and I will discuss this in upcoming blogs. 

The timing of meals goes back to thousands of years ago with our ancestors and finding food was hard to come by. When they found something to eat while foraging, they ate it. They hunted for food.  A lot of times, they were unsuccessful in their hunts. It was feast or famine. When they found a hillside full of berries, they ate them. They didn’t care how much those berries spiked their insulin level. What they cared about was taking advantage of the moment and feasting on a food that would satiate their hunger. I briefly addressed this in my last blog.

They ate enough to support their activities. Their physical activities were in sync with their dietary habits. Their caloric intake matched their caloric expenditure.  

Circadian rhythm is a very complex topic to discuss. Everyone regardless of how they manage their daily activities can benefit from applying one or two aspects of eating according to your circadian rhythm.  In upcoming blogs, I will discuss meal timing and nutrient timing.  Tweaking these aspects are just a few ways to help get your body clock back in sync.  

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