If you're struggling with weight loss, think about when you eat the highest calorie foods. If you’re eating most of your calories at night, you’re actually encouraging your body to gain weight. How can it be? Everyone keeps saying a calorie is a calorie. That may well be true but current research shows that your body metabolizes calories differently at different times of the day. It’s tied to your circadian rhythms and makes sense (if you consider how we evolved to our post-industrialized selves). Hunter/gatherers didn’t eat a lot in the mornings because they needed to get up and get moving and they hit the sack sometime around sundown. Thanks to them, we have very small appetites in the mornings but crave high calorie foods at night as our bodies prepare for the long fast. Electricity, college, two parent working families, and fun have changed our lifestyles but our bodies are still plodding along to an ancient drum. Thanks to electricity, we stay up late almost every night and we eat a lot of tasty snacks during that time. In the mornings, we’re pretty busy and tend to skip breakfast because our bodies aren't really hungry. However our circadian rhythms keep us metabolizing food at a faster rate during the day while we’re expending energy and slowing down at sunset because it thinks we should be headed to bed and storing energy.
Here are a few tips to help you lose weight more quickly:
- Make eating a job. You go to work for eight hours a day and then you’re done. Do the same with eating. Don’t change what you’re eating; but only eat within an eight hour period of time. Check the clock each morning as you put the first morsel of the day into your mouth and stop eating exactly eight hours later. This will take some planning but it will help you regulate your night time eating. For example, if you have breakfast at 8 a.m. you must be finished eating by 4 p.m. It’s actually pretty reasonable and you’ll lose weight even if you don’t change your diet!
- Eat your higher calorie meals in the afternoon. I know; easy to say, hard to do if you have a family that shares an evening meal with you. But honestly, if you eat your main meal earlier in the day you will be healthier and have less of a struggle losing weight. Your body is receiving calories during its peak performance, so calories are expended as energy instead of stored as fat. You can help your family adjust to a lower calorie evening by shifting treats like pumpkin bread or oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips and raisins to the afternoon instead of just before bedtime.
- After 7:30 p.m. any food eaten must be a fruit or a vegetable. This will cut down on calories consumed and will encourage healthy choices. To be honest, it also cuts down on calories consumed at night since most of us aren’t willing to forage the fridge for a carrot.
- Exercise at night. Moving your exercise to the evenings will keep you busy (instead of eating), will keep your body metabolizing at a higher rate for a longer period of time, and feels great! Pairing exercise with dieting activities is always a wise move.