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This article first appeared on Cooking Light.
Late-night snacking and constant grazing have long been thought to lead to weight gain and signal an unhealthy lifestyle, but now there’s evidence that eating outside an eight to ten hour window each day can have a serious negative impact on your health.
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In The Circadian Code, a new book published just last month, author and professor Satchin Panda suggests that when people contain their eating to within an eight to ten hour window rather than grazing from early morning to late at night, they improve their health by syncing their body’s natural sleep rhythms with their nutrition needs.
By eating when your body is in full work mode, for example during the hours from 8 am and 6 pm, you provide calories and nutrients when they’re needed most. Eating outside of those hours, signals to your body to gear up for activity, not prepare for rest.
This is similar to recent suggestions around limiting screen time, being around bright lights, or working out right before bed. We know that those activities confuse your circadian sleep rhythms, and we also know that there's a strong link between getting enough sleep and maintaining a healthy weight.
Dr. Panda conducted research in 2012 on mice, allowing one group unlimited access to high-fat and high-sugar foods while the other was provided the same diet but only within an eight-hour window. While both groups consumed roughly the same amount of calories, the mice with unrestricted access to the high-fat, high-sugar meals gained weight while the time-restricted group did not.
The study lead Dr. Panda to a new study, on a small group of pre-diabetic men. In order to see how the timing of the men’s food consumption impacted their health, he provided enough calories to maintain their weight while allowing them to eat within either a six- or twelve-hour window. The men who ate in the daily six-hour window experienced lower blood pressure, less hunger during the night, lower insulin, and reduced levels of oxidative stress.
We’ve long known that eating a balanced, hearty breakfast is key to maintaining your health and preventing weight loss; this new study suggests that being mindful of when you have breakfast and scheduling your final meal eight to ten hours later may have a greater impact on your health than scrutinizing what’s in every meal on your table.