Most people associate the circadian rhythm with its role in helping to regulate the sleep-wake cycle. However, this approximately 24-hour cycle also helps to regulate the timing of numerous bodily processes, including those involved with metabolism and hormone production. Understanding the relationship between the circadian rhythm and weight loss can help you to optimize your weight management efforts while promoting overall health and well-being as well as better sleep. Use these techniques to harness the power of your circadian rhythm.
Linking Circadian Rhythm and Weight Loss
Chronic circadian rhythm disruption, such as that experienced by shift workers, is associated with higher obesity rates. Disordered, insufficient sleep and irregular meal times, all too often typical of the shift work lifestyle, are important contributing factors to circadian rhythm disruption. That impacts weight because the circadian rhythm has an important role in helping to regulate the mechanics of how foods are metabolized into energy, blood glucose levels, the production of hormones, including insulin, and how calories are utilized and stored.
While a disrupted circadian rhythm can contribute to weight struggles, working with your circadian rhythm and making choices that promote circadian rhythm health can actually help you to lose weight more easily. It can also help you to maintain that weight loss once you’ve successfully reached your weight loss goal. That is because you are working with your body and the way it evolved over tens of thousands of years to operate.
Meal Timing and Intermittent Fasting
According to a study published in PLOS Biology, a biological sciences journal, meal timing can impact both how your body metabolizes food and utilizes and how it stores calories. The study looked at two groups of participants. Each group consumed the same amount of calories each day and had equivalent activity levels. Meal timing was the only difference between the two groups.
One group ate three meals a day and the other skipped breakfast and had a late-night snack instead. The group that ate three meals burned 15 more grams of fat in 24 hours than did those that skipped breakfast and had a late-night snack.
What does this mean for you? To promote a healthy weight and a healthy circadian rhythm, eat in line with the natural requirements of your body. In other words, eat to fuel the activities of your day, consuming the bulk of your calories during the early part of your day. This is especially true of carbohydrates. Do not skip breakfast and avoid eating late in the evening. Eating meals at the same time each day, avoiding carb heavy meals in the evening and not snacking at night also promote a healthy circadian rhythm.
Eating according to that pattern can make intermittent fasting almost effortless. When combined with a consistent timing of meals, intermittent fasting can be a valuable tool for weight management. There are various plans for intermittent fasting. Some people choose fit all meals into an eight hour span, leaving 16 hours of fasting. Others spread their meals across 12 hours and fast for the other 12. Some choose to eat normally for five days and fast for two days.
The benefit is fat burning. When a person is eating or snacking throughout the day, the body is drawing its energy from food intake. During intermittent fasting, once food intake calories are depleted, the body draws upon stored fat for its energy needs.
Time Your Exercise
Similar to food, the timing of your exercise can effect how that exercise impacts you and your health. Using mice as research subjects, researchers found that exercising during their naturally active period had a greater metabolic impact than did exercising during their resting period.
For humans, this may mean that morning exercise may be better for weight control than evening exercise. Daytime exercise also promotes circadian rhythm health. Exercise can also be used as a tool to help reset a disrupted circadian rhythm.
Melatonin Supplements Can Help
Melatonin, often referred to as the sleep hormone, is produced as the light wanes and evening shifts into night. It helps you to feel sleepy. When melatonin production is suppressed or disrupted, it can delay sleep timing and contribute to circadian rhythm disruption.
However, a good night’s sleep isn’t the only benefit melatonin has to offer. It performs a number of other important functions in the body, including aiding in metabolism. It promotes the development of brown fat, which burns calories faster. For people dealing with shift work, chronic circadian rhythm disruption or often experience insufficient or disrupted sleep, melatonin supplements can be helpful in getting back on track.
Work With Your Circadian Rhythm, Not Against It
For improved weight management and better health and well-being overall, work with your circadian rhythm, instead of against it. Help to reinforce that natural rhythm by setting regular times for meals, exercise, sleeping and waking. When you work with your body’s natural rhythms, it becomes much easier to be your best self and to reach your health and fitness goals.