You may not know it, but you feel the effects of your clock every day. You may pretty consistently feel hungry or sleepy or energetic at the same times from day to day.
Maybe you nap for 10 minutes when you hit the couch at 7:30 p.m., or maybe you reach for something to nosh on at three or four in the afternoon.
If you’re a pet owner, you’ve probably observed this in dogs; those that are fed at the same time each day change their patterns in anticipating food. Scientists examining these displays found that animals indeed have individual food clocks, an instinct that ensures we get the right amount of food throughout the day so that we have plenty of energy for survival.
Sync your body clock with your food clock by eating early
Humans seem to have a food clock, too—and this is the area that few of us have really tapped in our daily habits.
Eating early is generally better for your microbiome, which is better for you. And the best time to eat whole grain carbohydrates, protein, and dietary fat is early as well.
Here’s why the when part of the eating equation is so tough: Research has shown that our body’s natural rhythm is to want food later, even though it has a negative effect on our overall health.
That’s a major conflict: Our bodies were designed to want more calories at the end of the day and fewer in the morning. But the optimal way of eating—from a circadian rhythm point of view—is to consume more energy earlier in the day and less energy later in the day.
Why are our bodies’ food cravings out of sync with our circadian rhythm?
During times when we didn’t know when our next meals would be coming, the human body may have evolved the need for a food-storage mechanism. In that era, humans didn’t live long enough to experience the harms of late-night eating—and in any case, that impulse didn’t make much of a difference: The body only cared about surviving the next day, not the next decade.
Today, we no longer need that extensive storage ability; our modern world has outpaced the human body’s ability to adapt to its new environment where food is plentiful.
We have to override our reptilian instincts using the executive function of the brain to make smart choices about, well, what to eat when.
If we can take one lesson from the existence of our biological clock, it’s that our bodies will work best when we stay in sync. So remember this mantra: More in the morning and less later on.