I’m always looking for ways to eat healthily and increase my chances of living longer. I’d heard of intermittent fasting, 5:2 and Ketogenic diets, but I’d never given my feeding window much thought. After reading about a University of Virginia Brain Institute study linking the brain’s pleasure center with our biological clock, I started to investigate this intriguing concept. In today’s modern world, high-calorie foods are available practically 24 hours a day thanks to electricity and refrigeration, which means we now a very long feeding window. And that, of course, is one of the reasons why obesity is increasing. The answer appears to be to close our feeding window. A feeding window, in case you’re wondering, is the period (range of hours) during a 24-hour period in which you eat your meals.
According to a recent study conducted by Ali Güler, “The widespread availability of energy-dense, rewarding foods is correlated with the increased incidence of obesity across the globe.” In other words, Güler discovered a link between the brain’s pleasure center and biological clock. And that link appears to be driving obesity. High-calory foods (loads of sugar and carbs) stimulate the pleasure center of our brain, giving us that good feeling we get when we’re satisfied. And then we become addicted to that good feeling. Duh! Food companies selling processed food have known this for a long time and make them available to us practically whenever we want.
Our ancestors struggled to find high-calory foods, but we don’t. We can reach out and grab an abundance of calories that fire up our pleasure center, prompting us not only to eat more than we should at mealtime but to snack all day. The study indicates that we gain weight so quickly, as we store more calories as fat when we eat between meals than we do at traditional mealtimes. “We’re learning that when we eat is just as important as how much we eat. A calorie is not just a calorie. Calories consumed between meals or at odd hours become stored as fat, and that is the recipe for poor health,” Güler says. We over-consume. So, what can we do about this? We need to close our feeding window.
10-12-hour feeding window
The average feeding window for Americans is 14.75 hours a day. Although not everyone agrees on how long a person should fast, it seems that narrowing your feeding window to roughly 10-12 hours can help you lose weight. Let’s face it, we’re facing an entirely different set of pressures, one of which is struggling to control our natural pleasure-seeking capacities. Convenience is the problem; if we have food at hand, we tend to eat it. While closing your feeding window and even eating fewer carbs might seem unwise, there is nothing very wise about the obesity situation we’re facing today. And this is where Time Restricted Eating, also known as Time-Restricted Feeding, can help us shed pounds. It’s easier and more effective than fasting for 16 hours or trying to have two very-low-calorie days a week.
Time-restricted feeding is similar to intermittent fasting, but not the same. Coined by Dr. Satchin Panda from the Salk Institute of Biological Studies, time-restricted feeding focuses on when we eat in relation to our body’s circadian rhythm (natural sleeping patterns) instead of the time we spend avoiding food. When we do this, we give our digestive system time to rest, recover and better metabolize our food. Some studies have found that time-restricted feeding not only helps us lose weight, it increases mental clarity, reduces blood sugar levels, inflammation and increases energy levels. Moreover, it makes it much more practical to fit into a modern day.
When we eat more important than what we eat
To incorporate time-restricted feeding into your lifestyle, you must first understand how your circadian rhythm or inner clock works. Your circadian rhythm controls your cells’ metabolic activity, including the timing of hormone production and your body’s repair process, which is why sleep is so important. You can do this by monitoring your eating and sleeping habits to find your ideal eating times. Try this on a weekend or while on holiday. No alarm clocks, please! Sleep until your inner clock awakens you naturally, according to when it thinks you should get up.
Get with the rhythm
Working with your body’s natural circadian rhythm tells you and your organs when it’s time to be active and when it’s time to rest and recover. Studies have shown a 12-hour feeding window will probably be right for most of us, but exactly when that period is will vary according to your lifestyle. Studies also suggest that eating by a window when sunlight is available helps synchronize our light- and food-related inner clocks for optimal effect. I don’t know about you but focusing on the period we do eat rather than the period we don’t eat sounds a lot better in my ears.