It is not just what you eat but when you eat that counts

With Christmas just around the corner, many people will be enjoying the festive season by overindulging in food, alcohol and constant partying. Despite the annual desire to enact our New Year’s resolutions, many people slap on the inevitable extra kilos during this period.

There is no doubt that calorie dense, nutrient poor food is in abundance over the holiday break and there is also no doubt that this type of fare is partly responsible for the aforementioned weight gain. Although I believe it is vitally important that we see the holiday break as a time to recharge the batteries, we do often regret the weight gain, the hangovers and then we return to work not feeling particularly refreshed or rejuvenated.

Interesting new research from the Salk Institute in California published recently in the Journal, Cell Metabolism has examined the benefits of time restricted eating. Basically, the suggestion is to eat only between the hours of 8 AM to 6 PM. Just as sleep is vitally important to rest and rejuvenate our bodies, it is also important to give our gastrointestinal tract rest for exactly the same purpose. Unfortunately, in the western world, there is an abundance of shiftwork, people consuming the evening meal quite late because of a heavy work schedule and arriving home well after 7 PM, along with people who indulge in midnight snacks or nibbling away at processed foods whilst watching television. Also, the high processed carbohydrate cereals consumed in the morning contribute to this entire issue.

Photo by Brandi Ibrao, Unsplash

It is vitally important to realise that every organ in the body works on a biologic clock and needs to have important down time for the 3 Rs of body rhythm-repair, reset and regain. The study took 19 people and asked them to do all their eating during a 10 hour window for 12 weeks. The participants chose their own time window with minimal variation throughout the period. Interestingly, all the patients in the study had metabolic syndrome. The metabolic syndrome is the clinical manifestation of the insulin resistance gene which occurs in 30% of Caucasians, 50% of Asians and close to 100% people with dark or olive skin. This syndrome is manifested by tendency to, or frank, diabetes, hypertension, lipid abnormalities characterised by high triglyceride and low HDL and abdominal obesity (for males greater than 95 cm around the waist and for females greater than 80 cm-sorry ladies, I do not make the rules). Metabolic syndrome is associated with various forms of cardiovascular disease, gout, fatty liver and a higher rate of cancer.

Just by eating in a 10 hour window for 12 weeks the participants reduced their caloric intake by 9%, lost 3% of their body weight and had much better sleep. They also reduced abdominal fat by 3%. There was also a reduction in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar level and the 3 month sugar control-haemoglobin A1c. This also occurred with no change in physical activity.

So, rather than burning the candle at both ends over the Christmas break, see this as an opportunity to change your habits, giving those vital organs rest. It appears that a 10 hour eating window is the sweet spot.