With all the “advice” out there, it’s no wonder people are jumping from paleo to keto and quitting sugar before going raw-till-4. But what do all these diets have in common? They all restrict what you eat. What if you could eat all of a healthy food pyramid and still maintain or reach a healthy body?
It’s not just what you eat, but when you eat
For science nerds like me, chronobiology research is mounting some impressive evidence for the importance of eating in sync with our circadian rhythm. This area of research is specifically known as chrono-nutrition, making way for the “chrono-diet” or “circadian rhythm diet” or “body clock diet” (let’s just stick with one name right?). This is a form of time restricted eating (TRE) in which the daily eating window is restricted, rather than the calories consumed. Your eating window opens as soon as you have your first calorie through to your last. The chrono diet means eating meals in sync with your internal clock.
Intermittent fasting is different
You might be thinking, ‘isn’t this just a new fancy name for that other fad?’. Intermittent fasting alternates between a fasting period and a normal eating period. The chrono diet differs from intermittent fasting in two ways:
- The chrono diet doesn’t restrict calories
- The chrono diet requires a consistent eating window
Timing is everything
Our typical Western eating habits are not doing us any favors. We are undernourished and overfed with an unhealthy eating pattern, together being the most influential contributing factor to our risk of chronic diseases. A typical eating pattern sees first calories consumed around 8am and the last around 11pm, or, first calories at 6am and the last at 9pm. This is a 15 hour eating window. “But I skip breakfast”, I hear you half admit, that’s why I say ‘first calories consumed’, as it’s likely your double-shot-latte-with-1 first thing in the morning that you’re having. And sure, you’re having dinner by 6-7pm, but while you’re sitting on the couch watching Netflix and all of a sudden you’re snacky…the window widens.
The chrono diet (circadian rhythm) eating pattern
- Weight loss
- Increased energy
- Better quality sleep
- Lower risk of Type 2 diabetes
- More efficient metabolism
- Better digestion
- Reduced inflammation
- Improved immune function
Just to name a few…
Do it right
While it’s not necessarily about restricting calories, this isn’t your go-ahead to squeeze as many burgers and chips into that 10-12 hour window as humanly possible. We need to be sensible here! Here’s how you truly reap the benefits of circadian rhythm eating:
- Don’t skip breakfast! Eat within 2 hours of waking. If you don’t feel hungry in the mornings to begin with, you will start to after a couple of days. This should be your second largest meal (lunch being the biggest) packed with fibre, protein, vitamins and healthy fats.
- Eat an adequate lunch. One of our biggest health down-falls is snacking in the second half of the day. If your lunch is sufficiently nutrient and calorie dense, you won’t hit that 4pm snack-attack (or get drive-through on the way home from work).
- Leave 2 hours before bed. Dinner should be your lightest meal and last calories consumed. If, for example, you feel hungry around 8pm and your bed time is 9:30pm, make yourself a warm drink. Herbal teas or plant milk drinks such as a turmeric latte (be careful of added sweeteners) will bring satiety until your melatonin kicks in.
I personally eat like this almost everyday but I’m also realistic with having a social life. I don’t deprive myself of a later dinner with friends (although if I book, we’re ordering by 6:30 lol). The more you do it, the better you will feel and the less likely you will notice effects from eating the odd meal out of sync with your circadian rhythm.
I also follow the following meal principles:
Breakfast: My go-to is a big smoothie with fresh greens, bananas, berries, oats, chia, brazil nuts and some quality plant protein. This keeps me going until lunch.
Lunch: I focus on the majority of my meal being vegetables (especially dark leafy greens and cruciferous) with wholegrains (quinoa, brown rice, oats, barley), protein (I love chickpeas, tofu, any canned beans) and a small amount of good fats like avocado, nuts and seeds.
Dinner: Same as above but on a smaller scale. If I’m really hungry after dinner and there is still a while before bed I love plant milk turmeric lattes or homemade chai as the spices involved are great for digestion and reducing inflammation.
It’s not a ‘diet’
In my humble opinion, this isn’t a diet in the commercial sense. There isn’t a product that can be made and cleverly labelled, then sold to further fuel the ‘weight-loss’ industry. That’s why I love it. It focuses on simply eating a complete healthy food pyramid with the only change being the times that you eat. There’s no calorie counting or cutting out of essential food groups. If you’re someone who has a history of disordered eating, or now fear of certain foods as a result of your dieting past, this could be the last ‘diet’ you ever need. Please talk to your GP if you are uncertain or have an underlying medical condition such as diabetes.