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Diet Tip: Give Your Stomach a Rest

Never Eat at Night

English: Diagram illustrating the influence of...

Diagram illustrating the influence of dark-light rhythms on circadian rhythms and related physiology and behavior. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The final chapter in Our Healthcare Sucks notes the need for many Americans to “right-size” not just their healthcare consumption, but their diets as well. The table in that chapter comparing US obesity rates with other developed countries reinforces the urgency of this need for Americans who hope to get their healthcare costs under control – because the obese spend an extra 34% on healthcare due to disease-promoting effects of excess visceral, or belly, fat in particular.

This will be expanded upon when we release MedSmart Diet, which discusses – among other things –  the timing of meals and other food and liquid intake. The relevant research suggests reversing the current order of meals in the SAD (“Sickening American Diet”), with your smallest meal of the day at dinnertime since you have less time to digest it before bedtime. Making this your largest meal of the day, as is typical, leaves you with more undigested calories to turn to fat as your metabolism slows while you sleep.

The opposite is also true: the more calories from your last meal of the day that your body has to digest and metabolize while you’re sleeping, the fewer stored calories your body will burn. With a light dinner, you’re more likely to actually burn calories while you sleep – and less likely to need to diet during the day.

It all has to do with the interrelationship between your biological circadian clock – or circadian rhythm, as it’s commonly referred to – and your metabolism. The following graphic illustrates how your circadian rhythm affects your daily hormonal production and other bodily processes like blood pressure, mental alertness, body temperature, and even bowel movements (click on graphic for larger image):

Overview of biological circadian clock in huma...

Overview of biological circadian clock in humans. Biological clock affects the daily rhythm of many physiological processes. This diagram depicts the circadian patterns typical of someone who rises early in morning, eats lunch around noon, and sleeps at night (10 p.m.). Although circadian rhythms tend to be synchronized with cycles of light and dark, other factors - such as ambient temperature, meal times, stress and exercise - can influence the timing as well. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This little recognized effect of the timing of your diet was recently confirmed by research, performed only in mice so far, published in the journal Cell Metabolism confirming that, as the lead researcher put it in an interview on blogs/

 “Our society has focused on calorie in, calorie out, exercise and eat healthy, however, this…novel study…has shown when we eat could be just as important as what we eat

“For millions of years humans ate only during the day time. Only…in the last 50 years our society began eating more at night, and during longer periods throughout the day. Much like our brain needs to rest at night…the stomach and the body’s digestive system need to rest from processing (food), otherwise we work our organs into…metabolic exhaustion

“This study changes the paradigm of our focus on solely calorie-in and calorie out. It brings the notion that our body’s calorie use efficiency can be substantially changed by eating pattern alone.”

When you eat may be as important as what you eat.

“You need to go 12 hours without eating”

A related article at elaborated on this subject as follows:

“Our metabolisms are hardwired to expect a nightly fast, which is a key time for your body to burn fat...New studies reveal that to burn the most fat, you need to go 12 hours without eating—say, from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. So it’s smart to time your calorie intake accordingly.

This photo shows an owl perched at a tree bran...

Owls eat at night - and look at the shape they're in. According to Brit, this is Barred Owl (Strix varia). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Here’s how that works: During the day, your brain and muscles use some of the calories you eat for fuel, and the rest gets stored in the liver in the form of glycogen.

“At night, your body converts that glycogen into glucose and releases it into your bloodstream to keep your blood-sugar levels steady while you sleep. Once the stored glycogen is gone, your liver starts burning fat cells for energy. Yes, you read that right—you burn fat while you sleep.

“When you wake up in the morning, sunlight tells your brain that the day has started. Eating breakfast—breaking your night’s fast—sends that same signal to the circadian rhythms in your body. Chowing shortly after you get up synchronizes these clocks and, as a result, delivers a powerful metabolic jump start, Panda said. That means you’ll more efficiently use nutrients all day.

“There’s one caveat: If you eat a big dinner at 11 p.m. one night, it’s actually smart to skip the early morning meal in order to fit in a 12-hour fast.”

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There’s also evidence that disrupting your body’s circadian rhythm has pro-inflammatory effects that promote not just obesity, but diabetes and cancer as well. The following is from a recent report from

“Scientists have known for some time that throwing off the body’s circadian rhythm can negatively affect body chemistry. In fact, workers whose sleep-wake cycles are disrupted by night shifts are more susceptible to chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetesobesity and cancer.” 

Molecular Link Between Circadian Clock Disturbances And Inflammatory Diseases,

So the link between your circadian rhythm – reset and nurtured each night with a good night’s sleep – and your body’s metabolism, digestive efficiency, and inflammatory/anti-inflammatory balance is very real.

Other Health & Behavioral Effects

Losing weight isn’t always healthful (see Weight Loss: Too Much, Too Fast Increases Disease Risk). This is especially true if you use artificial means to achieve it – medications or diet supplements that  often have dangerous side effects. These simple steps of reversing your food portion sequence and avoiding nighttime eating are both natural and consistent with our evolutionary mandate.

Of course, there’s more to losing weight and keeping it off, but doesn’t it make sense to minimize your need to constantly be fighting your body’s own hormonal and other biological processes? Aren’t you more likely to succeed and persist with a healthful diet without this huge obstacle impeding your efforts to achieve and maintain your optimal body weight and fat distribution?

In addition to the biological effects of late night eating, there’s the equally real and harmful effect it has on your self-control. We tend to make our worst decisions when we’re tired, and that includes our food choices. By skipping late night eating – whether main meals or snacking – you’re far less likely to make poor choices in both nutrition and diet quantity and quality that are more common when you’re tired.

The physician from the University of Pennsylvania School of medicine in the following video explains how disruptions to the body’s healthy circadian rhythm plays a crucial role in diabetes development:

Researching Circadian Rhythms and the Molecular Team in Fat Metabolism

Fat production by the liver runs on a 24-hour cycle, the circadian rhythm, and is similar to the sleep-wake cycle. Mitchell Lazar, MD, PhD, director of the Institute for Diabetes, Obesity, and Metabolism (IDOM) at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine…

In short, if you need the light on when you’re eating dinner, you not only are more likely to gain weight, but you’re also likely to promote inflammatory processes in your body that promote diabetes, cancer and other diseases. You’re also depriving yourself of the easiest way possible to lose weight – letting your body burn more calories while you sleep simply by timing your last – and lightest – meal of the day before sunset.

And that’s a lot easier than depriving yourself of food altogether with constant – and often counter-productive – dieting.

Add your two cents by commenting below.

This article is provided for informational and educational purposes only.
It does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied upon as such.

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