Eating schedule affects your weight

More and more research is suggesting that when you eat may be just as important as what you eat. And it is very closely tied to the complex science of circadian rhythms.

More and more research is suggesting that when you eat may be just as important as what you eat. And it is very closely tied to the complex science of circadian rhythms.

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It matters when you eat (source: lahiya.com)

Your biological clock matters

According to the US National Institute of General Medical Sciences, circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle, responding primarily to light and darkness in an organism's environment.

Circadian rhythms are driven by biological clocks inside our bodies. The brain has a master biological clock, influenced mainly by light, which tells "peripheral" clocks in the muscles and organs what time of day it is. Because of these clocks, many of the metabolic processes that take place inside us operate at different rates over the course of a 24-hour period.

Circadian rhythms can help explain why eating late at night increases the likelihood of weight gain and decreases the rate at which we lose weight, compared with eating earlier in the day.

For example, research suggests that the calories we burn from digesting, absorbing and metabolizing the nutrients in the food we eat -- known as diet-induced thermogenesis -- is influenced by our circadian system and is lower at 8 p.m. than 8 a.m., according to Frank A.J.L. Scheer, director of the Medical Chronobiology Program in the Division of Sleep and Circadian Disorders at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, US.

So how do we eat in sync with our circadian rhythms? They key is to front-load your calories and carbs. According to New-York-based dietitian Tamara Duker Freuman, we can ensure we are eating in sync with circadian rhythms through the following tips:

1. Don't skip breakfast

Ideally, breakfast should be satiating enough to preclude the need for a midmorning snack, and it should have a minimum of 300 calories, according to Freuman. It should always include high-fiber carbohydrates, which are more slowly digested than refined carbs, and it should include protein, which helps keep hunger in check.

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Don't skip your breakfast (photo: P.Y)

Good breakfasts include a cup of cooked oatmeal with low-fat milk and a small handful of nuts, two slices of Ezekiel or whole-grain bread with mashed avocado and sliced tomato, or a two-egg omelet with veggies, fruit and a slice of whole-wheat toast.

If you are not hungry when you wake up, you can defer breakfast for a few hours -- but it should not be skipped.

2. Have the "blue plate special" for lunch

Lunch should be like that blue plate special ... the main meal of the day.

For a simple lunch strategy, Freuman suggests filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables and then piding the second half into protein (like grilled fish or chicken) and slowly digested high-fiber carbohydrates (like beans or quinoa). "A salad with grilled chicken is fine, but try adding a baked sweet potato, a heaping scoop of chickpeas or even a thick, hearty lentil soup," she said.

If you prefer a sandwich for lunch, pair it with fiber-rich vegetables. "A turkey sandwich is part of a good lunch, but it's not a whole lunch." Try adding butternut squash soup or carrots with hummus.

Other good lunches that Freuman recommends include baked salmon with lentils and cooked green veggies or a Mexican quinoa bowl with quinoa, black beans, chicken, avocado and salsa, along with a pile of greens.

The easiest way to plan for lunch may be to use last night's leftovers. "I cook dinner at home and bring in my leftovers for lunch the next day. When I get home from work, I'm not tearing the house apart."

3. Pack a snack

An afternoon snack may be necessary if lunch and dinner are more than five hours apart. However, it should be no more than 200 calories, and it should be high in protein and fiber. "This will prevent you from arriving at dinner feeling 'starving,' " Freuman said.

Snacks that will satisfy include an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, grape tomatoes with string cheese, a hard-boiled egg or plain Greek yogurt with fruit.

4. Go low-carb for dinner

Dinner should be light and low in carbohydrates. "The more you can go low-carb for dinner, the more it will mitigate the effects of distorted calories at night," Freuman said.

Dinners might include fish and a cooked vegetable, lettuce-wrapped tacos or a turkey burger (minus the bun) and a salad with light dressing.

"I'll make turkey meatballs for my kids, and I'll give them pasta too, but I'll have mine on a bed of spinach -- and the next day, I'll bring the pasta for lunch."

And when dining out, Freuman suggests ordering two appetizers, like a salad and a shrimp cocktail or grilled calamari./.

According to CNN

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