Understanding Your Body Clock

//Understanding Your Body Clock

Understanding Your Body Clock

Pamela M. Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, FACSM has shared an excellent article in “Fitness Journal” for ACE certified professionals and I would like to share my brief summary of it with you.  Understanding the importance of working with your body clock is important to your health and maintaining a healthy body weight. A few years back when I took my Eating Psychology course, Marc David shared the importance of this as well.  We have a circadian rhythm that gives excellent signals on the right times to feed ourselves.


In life, timing is everything.  Clocks, smart phones or other smart devices rule our lives.  We count minutes on the treadmills and then calories afterward.  We race to business meetings, appointments, trains, kids events, and dinner dates.  Sitting down to eat has become mindless grabbing and going, dashboard dining, eating on the job, skipping meals, guzzling sugary caffeine and energy drinks, and nighttime bingeing.  Sleep becomes an afterthought — not a good idea.


We have become unaware that we are paying for this pandemonium with expanded waistlines, energy lows, and blood sugar rise.  All of this has helped set a predictable pattern in our society, a rush to try the latest diet and exercise fads. I think we have convinced ourselves to accept this life as normal and have cast away healthy lifestyle habits in pursuit of social and professional goals and ideals.


Your most critical lifesaving clock is your body clock.  This body time is the most natural, powerful rhythm of life.  Our internal clock is a network of 37 million cellular clocks in the brain’s hypothalamus.  It controls the body’s daily rhythm including sleep, attentiveness, hormone regulation, physical activity, body temperature, immune function, and digestion. We have a lack of understanding right now in that we really are rhythmic, biologically, and that these rhythms are very important to the smooth working of the human body. Skipping meals, chaotic eating, relentless stress, continuous screen gazing, skimping on sleep, and a sedentary lifestyle disrupts our circadian rhythm. We risk a rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and mental health.  


We need to get back in sync with our natural circadian rhythm.  How? First, through our mouths! Is it time to eat yet? Ask your body clock!  Pay attention to your natural rhythm. Pamela stated, “Learning to nourish yourself guided by your body clock network sets off a domino effect that can correct and reset sleep and physical activity routines and rituals along with metabolism.”  Research is revealing the rise of eating later at night has thrown off our circadian rhythm and possibly contributed to the increases in obesity.  At night the body needs to begin the process of rest and regeneration.


Emerging findings from various studies suggests honoring the primal (think our ancestors) rhythm of limiting our eating to within more of the natural daylight hours.  There is no perfect solution or guide for each of us, but the common thread is that on average, our ancestors had at least 12 hours of not eating. If we adapt this pattern will something beneficial happen during those hours of not eating?  Indeed, there is!


During the hours we eat, the goal is to consume appropriate portions of high quality whole foods.  And this is individualized to each of our specific needs. When we eat by our natural body clock the body is more efficient at breaking down foods.  For example, carbs are more optimally metabolized in the mornings and early afternoons.


When we enter a non-feeding state, a process of regeneration and repair begins at the cellular level, often peaking at about 12 hours food free.  Cells recycle their contents to promote optimal health and prevent disease. One researcher, Mark Mattson, PhD, found 12 to 16 hours of non-feeding reduces excess body fat while lowering levels of insulin and blood sugar.  He also found that during this time of not eating, the body is able to strengthen the cells ability to adapt and cope with stresses like disease and aging protecting against stroke and cognitive decline.

Americans tend to consume up to 2/3 of their daily calories after 3 pm.  Binge eating tends to be greatest late in the day or into the evening. Planning healthy eating around your body clock can break up these destructive habits.  The easiest plan is to simply eat within a 12 hour window, approximately 7 am to 7 pm. Eating this way cuts out excessive nighttime calories. Remember no two days are alike.  Eating challenges will happen, and hours shift. Strive to hit the 12 hour window of not eating as best you can.


I hope you find this week’s blog informative and helpful as you take a look at how you are living and eating day to day.  It seems I routinely get asked about the number of calories and carbs in food. While being smart about what we eat is important, it should not be your only focus. As I have said before, I feel like we can get focused on mowing our lawn when our house is on fire!


I will leave you with one last quote from Pamela, “If our ancestors were fortunate, they had one main meal, possibly two per day.  And if they encountered a patch of plump strawberries, rest assured they didn’t run away crying out, “Too many carbs!”  Anything and everything was in play. Energy consumption and expenditure were in sync with the requirements of daily biological and environmental rhythms.”


To finding your natural rhythm,

Beth Dean   CPT, CES, pn1


PS — I think the picture depicts the circadian rhythm cycle well.  Taken from, “Is It Time To Eat Yet?” by Pamela Peeke, MD, MPH, FACP, FACSM, ACE Fitness Journal (july/august 2018)