Written by Mary Battista, Prairie Health Companion

You’ve heard the saying, “You are what you eat” but have you ever wondered if,” You are when you eat!”  When we are lonely or stressed, especially during divorce, food can sometimes seem to fill a void, but the dangers of this emotional eating pattern are starting to be understood.

Recent studies are shedding new light on how our metabolism works, and it seems that our bodies are designed to process food most efficiently when we eat during the daylight hours. Research is discovering that calories consumed during the day are metabolized differently than calories eaten at night, which could mean weight problems and disease for the many people who work at night or are just up at night snacking and dining.

Researchers have recently discovered how disruption of our circadian rhythms due to unnatural light exposure can interfere with sound sleep, now they are discovering a second kind of circadian clock that has to do with metabolism.   According to Ruth Patterson PHD, and nutrition expert and epidemiologist at University of California, San Diego, “when you eat all the time, your insulin and glucose levels are elevated all of the time”.  Insulin is a growth promoting hormone and its constant presence in the blood stream could fuel precancerous cells.  So not only are we more inclined to gain weight from night eating, but we are also more predisposed to chronic disease.    Dr. Patterson’s research discovered that breast cancer recurrences were less likely when women simply abstained from food for at least 13 hours.  In fact, many of their subjects lost weight simply by adjusting when they ate during the day, but not what they ate.

Other findings form Dr. Patterson’s research suggest:

  1. Fast for at least half of the day each day.  Depending on your schedule it could be 6PM to 6AM or if you have to eat later, say 8PM, stave off breakfast until 8AM
  2. It’s beneficial to eat your main meal earlier in the day (before 3PM) to lose weight and for best digestion
  3. Eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper. Calories eaten earlier in the day are metabolized more efficiently than those eaten at night.
  4. Consume only water during your nightly 12 hour fast (sorry, coffee is not water)

It’s interesting to note that one of the oldest medical systems in the world, the science of Ayurveda, practiced mainly in India but also elsewhere in the world, also teaches to eat in a very similar pattern and they’ve been teaching this for over 5000 years!   According to Ayurveda, the science of life, between the hours of 12PM and 2PM our “digestive fire” is strongest as it is aligned with the strongest sun of the day, reminding us that our bodies are linked to the natural world. They also suggest a lighter dinner earlier in the evening to supplement you to get through to your  “break-fast”.  So research may be confirming what these Ayurvedic practitioners have known for thousands of years-night eating is detrimental to your health.

It might be an interesting experiment for you to change the time you ate and/or to abstain completely from eating after your evening meal.  What if I get hungry you ask?  Then, you would be in solidarity with the millions of hungry people on this earth.  The only difference is, you know you have another meal coming and they don’t.