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When is the Best Time to Eat?

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Many people wonder what is the best time of day to eat our main meals. Some say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and others warn that eating too close to bedtime can give us bad dreams. In some cultures, the main meal is eaten at lunchtime, while others prefer a big, festive dinner later in the evening. With all of the competing messages about when we should eat, how do we know what’s right for us? In this compelling new podcast episode, Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, explores the biological cycles that drive our metabolism and explains why we can digest our food more efficiently at certain times of day. This episode is full of practical tips and insights that will help you tune in to your body’s natural rhythms and maximize your metabolic potential.

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Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

If you’ve ever wondered when is the best time to eat, the answer to that question begins with an exploration of rhythm. Rhythm is everywhere. The whole of our biology is a fantastic clockwork of precise chemical and hormonal rhythms whose timing is critical for our survival and well-being. Your heart beating is a rhythm. Your lungs inhale and exhale in rhythm. The electrochemical pulsation of the brain is a rhythm. So too is the menstrual cycle, and the cycles of waking and sleeping, digesting and eliminating. Although these rhythms are largely unconscious activities of our bodies, if they get out of alignment, disease or even death can be the result.

But if you can master rhythm, you can master your metabolism.

Indeed, much of what ails us from a nutritional perspective – weight gain, fatigue, digestive complaints, carbohydrate craving, overeating – can be resolved by re-aligning with the kinds of rhythms that naturally and effortlessly regenerate us. Let’s take a look at how we can better understand and harness this important metabolic force.

Checking Your Temperature

One of the simplest and most reliable ways to measure the metabolic rate of the human body is to take its temperature. The hotter you are, the more metabolically active you’ll be.

But we don’t run hot all the time. Body temperature has a rhythm that is consistent and predictable for most everyone, and this daily fluctuation can help us unleash our metabolic potential. During the evening and early morning hours when we sleep, body temperature drops. Our muscles have little work to do at this time; the body is in a state of rest, healing, and repair. We do burn calories as we sleep, but not as quickly as in our waking hours.

The moment you wake up, body temperature automatically begins to rise. Even if you stayed in bed all day and didn’t move, your temperature and your metabolism would still be elevated, because our metabolic cycles are programmed to match the rhythms of the sun.

Since your metabolism naturally heats up in the morning, eating at this time is a smart bet if you’re trying to lose weight. Adding food to your gut will increase metabolic rate even more and provide your body with the nutrients it’s already preparing to process.

Body temperature continues a slow, steady rise until around noon, when it reaches its peak at the very moment the sun finds its high point in the sky. Our digestive force is therefore hottest at lunchtime. It makes sense, then, that our largest meal would be best consumed at this time, when our ability to pulverize food is strongest.

Body temperature dips for the period between approximately 2:00pm and 5:00pm. Just as we feel more awake when body temperature is rising, we feel sleepy when it’s falling. So if you’ve ever felt your energy dropping somewhere between 2-ish and 5-ish, don’t worry – you’re perfectly normal. It’s the human rhythm. After our midday meal, body energy – in the form of blood flow and oxygenation – is rerouted to digestion. The result is that we feel tired.

Body Temperature Decreases Before Sleep

At around 4:00 to 6:00 PM body temperature starts to rise again and most people feel their energy returning. Around nine o’clock, body temperature begins another downward trend in preparation for sleep. Sleep research reveals that we cannot fall asleep soundly unless temperature is dropping. Recall that the act of eating raises body temperature. A big meal before bed could therefore interfere with your slumber.

Unfortunately, most Americans have it backward. We tend to do a small to nonexistent breakfast, a moderate sized lunch, and a big dinner before bed. And this is exactly what you ought to do if your goal is restless sleep and weight gain.

Mind Body Nutrition tells us that if you want to get the ultimate metabolic benefit of eating, don’t eat your most substantial and nutrient-dense meal when your digestion is on a downturn in the late evening hours. Experimenting and playing with meal timing is a wonderful nutritional experiment. It’s time to let your meals match up with your body’s periods of hottest metabolic potential, and see what happens.

I hope this was helpful.

Warmly,
Emily Rosen

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