Category

Nutrition

What are Starchy Carbs and Should you be Eating Them?

By | Carbohydrates, Fuel, Nutrition

Lately I’ve had a number of people talk to me about whether or not they should be eating carbohydrates (carbs) with many suggesting they should cut carbs, particularly starchy carbs as a weight loss strategy. What that means is they would reduce or remove high starch carbs from their diet such as bread, flour, potatoes, pasta, corn, rice and their many derivatives.

Taking a quick look at what carbs are, they generally fall into three broad categories – sugars, starches and dietary fibre. However, within the carbohydrate family tree there are many branches. Starch is a complex carb and there are two distinct types. Regular starch is able to be broken down into individual sugar molecules in our small intestine to be absorbed by our body and used to produce or store energy. Resistant starch, which has more recently risen to prominence, is a type of starch that passes through the small intestine remaining somewhat undigested as it moves into our large intestine. Usually this is because the simple carbohydrate molecules are not accessible to our digestive enzymes due to the configuration and shape of the starch leaving these stubborn little bundles “resistant” to being broken down.

Including resistant starch in your diet is very beneficial. Like dietary fibre, resistant starch aids digestion and provides fuel for your good gut bacteria when being broken down in your large intestine. By eating foods that are resisting digestion we also reduce the amount of simple sugars that we are absorbing from the meal which is usually the main reason why people remove starch from their diet.

Where do we find resistant starch? The nutritional content of food is not always as straight forward as it seems. A green banana for example is very high in resistant starch whereas an over-ripe banana you can smell from the next room is much lower in resistant starch and higher in fructose, a sugar. We experience this as a sweeter taste compared to the chalky, not so sweet green banana. You’ll also find resistant starch in various legumes, raw oats and many vegetables.

Should you remove starch from your diet?

Before you tell all your friends you are cutting carbs, make sure you are clear on the reason why. There are a number of potential diet strategies that can be employed depending on your weight goals, your current and desired energy levels and your food preferences. Removing starch is one strategy but in a lot of cases is not required.

If you love a good carb (like me), there are ways you can improve your diet without needing to place a blanket ban on carbs or starch. Here’s three considerations to make before determining whether or not to keep some of that starchy goodness in your life.

1. Preparation

How you prepare and eat your starchy foods can make quite a difference to the levels of resistant and non resistant starch being consumed as well as the overall health benefits of the meal. One of the best ways to eat starch is via cooked food which has been cooled. Potatoes which have been boiled and cooled remain soft and delicious however during the cooling process some of the starch binds together increasing the amount of resistance starch in the meal. This results in absorbing less calories from the starch and at the same time aiding our digestive system. Win-win. White rice in sushi is another example. Avoiding cooking your starchy foods in trans fats such as vegetable oils will also help you decrease the digestive burden and overall calories being consumed with your starchy food. Sorry hot chips, you’re out.

2. Timing of starchy meals

When are you eating your carbs? If you’re reading this you’re probably well aware that binging on potato chips and Vegemite toast at 9pm is a big no no, likely to result in reduced quality of sleep and deserving of a slap on the wrist. Likewise eating a carb only breakfast is not the ideal start to the day. Eating them after a workout is one of the best times to get your carbs in. Insulin sensitivity is heightened after working out which helps you to regulate blood glucose levels. If you really pushed yourself, you’ll also have depleted muscle glycogen stores which the starchy foods can help to replenish meaning you are less likely to have a surplus of glucose in your blood to be stored as fat. Good for recovery, less likely to become fat. Another win-win.

3. Combination of foods

What are you eating your starch with? By avoiding using starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta and bread products as the base of a meal and combining them with high fibre foods, protein ands fat you can reduce the number of calories being consumed from starch as a percentage of the overall meal. Dietary fibre, protein and healthy fats are far more satiating than carbs and will lead to you eating less calories and feeling fuller for longer. Opting for foods that are high in fibre will also assist overall digestion. My usual advice is to opt for variety in your food and be mindful of the balance of macronutrients (carbs, protein and fat) during each meal.

Find a strategy for you

With all general advice it really depends on the goal of your diet, your workouts and your weight status. There are certainly benefits to fasted workouts and post workout fasting just like there can be benefits to cutting carbs. Time restricted eating is another great strategy which can be used as a starting point. Remember, not all carbs are created equal. Think about how you are are preparing your foods, the timing of when you eat carbs and the combination of macros during each meal.

If you would like to have a more specific conversation about your own carb intake, I’m helping people just like you make subtle changes to their diet, exercise routine and sleep to feel better, stress less and achieve more. Simply fill in the contact form here to book your free wellness discovery session.

Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 4)

By | Nutrition, Wellness
Not many people would argue with me on the fact that the food we put in our bodies is one of the most important influencers of our health. While there are so many factors that influence what food ends up in our mouths, ultimately as adults what we eat is well within our circle of control. During this four part series I set out to try to put into words why we eat the food that we eat. There were four key ideas that I wanted to highlight, three of which have already been covered.
  1. We have physiological drivers that make us want to eat. We are wired to crave energy, our cells need it to survive. This was explored through the lens of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. When we meet the physical needs of the body our needs are then driven by psychological and self-efficacy needs. (Part 1)
  2. The role of attitudes, social norms and perceived behavioural control play a big role in what we choose to buy, to cook and to eat with attitude having the strongest correlation with behaviour. This was addressed by applying the Theory of Planed Behaviour to our food choices. (Part II)
  3. Habits and past behaviours are one of the strongest predictors of future behaviour and unless you consciously design the environment to support a change and repeatedly practice the new behaviour, we find it very hard to break away from existing patterns of behaviour. (Part III)
And the fourth reason?
  1. We are a product of our environment!
The effect of our environment on our food consumption behaviour overlaps with all of the other areas we have looked at thus far and plays a huge role in what food we eat. When it comes to food choices, our environment is not merely the trees growing in the street, or the community vegetable garden down the road. Our environment comprises every place and system we live within, from our family make up to the broader political and cultural environment we live within which plays an important role in the types of foods made available or considered suitable for consumption in our culture.
To get a better understanding, let’s apply another framework (yay), the Ecological Framework!

Ecological Models of Behaviour

Ecological models of health behaviour place the individual at the centre of the model surrounded by layers of environmental influencers.

Using a model such as Bronfenbrenner’s model, shown here, demonstrates the overlap between the varying environmental contexts the individual exists within and that it’s the combination of each layer that influences behaviour.

The inner circle represents the individual who is surrounded by their immediate environment known as the Microsystem. The Microsystem represents all the interactions the individual has with people in their lives such as family members, peers and school or work colleagues. The following layer, the Mesosystem is the environment in which the microsystem relationships take place in and connects the Microsystem to the Exosystem.

The Exosystem is the broader community the individual resides within but does not necessarily directly interact with such as the industry associations, educational institutions and the political environment. Finally, the outer layer of the model consists of the Macrosystem which represents the cultural norms and societal laws.

Each level of the model influences food choice and consumption behaviour in some way. The inner circle representing the individual encompasses the attitudes the person has towards various foods. The following two circles have a large bearing on what food is available to an individual in their community, what they like, what foods they tend to purchase and when they eat.
The outer levels will have a large bearing on food behaviour in the form of what is accepted as food in the culture and what foods are grown in or imported into the area. An example of how the Exosystem can impact food choice through politics is if the government were to introduce a tax on food products containing added sugar, this would make those products more expensive and may influence an individual’s decision to purchase them or make an alternative decision.
Cultural ideologies are more likely to inform food choice behaviour in an unconscious manner as the individual may not question why things are done a certain way but rather accept that it is normal such as which foods you could expect to purchase at a restaurant or whether you would buy fried scorpions from a street market! (spew)…

Summing it all up

An ecological appreciation is important as it acknowledges while individuals make choices as to what foods they consume, their choices are largely a product of their environment in the form of what foods they have been exposed to and the foods which are available to them. From a social standpoint we can see that other people have perhaps the most significant role in our food behaviour particularly as we grow up and begin to form our food preferences. So while you could blame Mum or your culture for the food that you eat as a result of the environment you grew up in, you also have the power to change the story and make a new choice (however, you might also need to consider changing your environment).
References
  1. Sallis JF, Owen N, Fischer EB. Health behaviour and health education theory research and practice. 4th ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; c2008. Chapter 20, Ecological models of health behaviour; p. 465-85.
  2. Hardcastle SJ, Thøgersen-Ntoumani C, Chatzisarantis NL. Food Choice and Nutrition: A Social Psychological Perspective. Nutrients. 2015 Oct 21;7:8712-15.

 

Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 3)

By | Nutrition, Wellness

One thing you can guarantee in life is that you will encounter multiple life altering changes. Whether of your own choosing or due to outside circumstances, change is inevitable.

I’ve had a couple of dramatic routine changes this year, the most recent in May when I left my full time job (for the second time this year) and decided to finally go out on my own! A big change in routine provides the perfect back drop for creating new healthy habits such as cleaning up our diet and assessing the foods that we purchase on a day to day or week to week basis.

It’s amazing how easily and quickly we can experience habit creep! Old patterns of behaviour slowly creeping back in to influence our new habits. This is why past behaviour and habits are the strongest predictors of future behaviour.

The Role of Habits

We are constantly forming patterns of behaviour. It’s important that we do so in order to prevent us from having to consciously think about every single action or behaviour we undertake. This frees up an enormous amount of mental energy to make decisions about important things like what to watch on Netflix (jokes). Driving a car provides the perfect example of developing automated habits. If you think back to your first time behind the wheel, as a learner driver you were very deliberate about all of your actions and the sequence in which they occurred such as indicating, looking in their mirror, head checking, braking and turning. However, as the skill of driving is developed over time, as a seasoned driver you now undertake most of these actions automatically without conscious decision making. Now you can devote your attention to belting out a tune while looking around to see whether any fellow travellers have spotted you.

In the same way, eating behaviour can exist as a series of automated habits that are developed and reinforced over time. People become familiar with the types of foods they know they can prepare, the sensation of being satisfied or over-satisfied, where certain items are located in the supermarket that they like to buy and even the position they place them in their pantry at home. There are so many layers to the habits we form around our eating!

Have you ever walked to the pantry with your mind elsewhere and before you knew it you were about to put food in your mouth? I’ll take that as a yes. Even healthy foods can become a vice in this way. I love roasted almonds and recently I was beginning to develop the habit of taking a small handful from the jar every time I walked through the kitchen so I needed to move them to break the habit!

When combined with our biological impulses such as cravings we can experience for certain food types, patterns of behaviour can be very difficult to overcome. Changing a food choice behaviour is not always as simple as having the intention to do so or making a rational alternative decision. Items such as chocolate, caffeinated drinks, soft drink, alcohol and cigarettes contain substances which provide physiological stimuli that we learn to crave due to the short-term reward we receive from these substances.

Without “choice architecture,” the purposeful planning and design of the environment to support new desired choices and behaviours, it can be very difficult to overcome the desire to consume certain foods and control impulsive behaviour. Willpower alone is rarely enough. There are many environmental factors that reinforce the habit as we associate the environment, whether that be physical, social or emotional, with the behaviour. So, changing the behaviour usually involves deliberately changing the environment.

In the final part of this series I will take a deeper dive into the role of the various levels of our environment on our food choices. In the mean time, if you are serious about understanding why you eat what you eat and creating healthy change that lasts, take note of the following:

  1. It’s near impossible to change a behaviour without first understanding what’s influencing that behaviour and what patterns or habits lead to that behaviour.
  2. Past behaviour is the strongest predictors of future behaviour unless you have a deliberate plan to redesign the environment which leads to the decision or impulse to undertake that behaviour.
  3. Merely saying “I don’t want to overeat” or “I quit chocolate” will rarely be enough and are more likely to cause you to feel like a failure the next time you do overeat or gorge yourself on chocolate!

To finish on a side note, one of our biggest pitfalls when it comes to our diet is guilt we feel as a result of eating. I believe that the guilt you feel due to eating is just as harmful, if not more so, than what you are putting into your body. It’s time you developed a positive relationship with food!

Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 2)

By | Nutrition, Wellness
I’ve loved getting back into football this year, after my first attempt at retirement last year (ha). The pre-season helped me sharpen my fitness and the familiar routine gives me a sense of stability. Thursday night training is a buzz, though I must admit partially because I’m looking forward to the end of the session to get inside and see how much food I can eat for $10! Anyone familiar with the Aussie rules community club culture is accustomed to the Thursday night meal which usually includes fried nuggets and chips for the kids (but I’ll save this bug bear for another post).
A few weeks ago following Thursday night training, I was doing my usual thing which is to try and load as much of the veggies or salad onto my plate as I can. Then when I found a seat, I was talking to some of the young guys who’s plates looked very different to mine. It appeared they preferred single colour meals and traded any semblance of real food for extra fries. These are young athletes mind you, and it often leaves me pondering how they fuel their body to perform and recover. I digress…
I politely and non-judgementally pose the question, “no veggies mate?” 
The answer, “Na I don’t really like them.”
When you are fortunate enough to have access to pretty much any type of food you want, always satisfy your hunger and never have to think about where your next meal is coming from, why do so many people give little thought to what they eat?
In part one of this series (found here), we had a quick glance at food choice behaviour from the point of view of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to consider some of the drivers of our behaviour. Now we turn to a well known behavioural process model, The Theory of Planned Behaviour, to provide another perspective.

The Theory of Planned Behaviour

Developed by Icek Ajzen, the Theory provides a model to describe and predict human behaviour through the lens of three belief types; behavioural, normative and control. It is these belief systems which inform a person’s intention to act in a certain way.
In this model, intention is the key predictor of behaviour, so we must understand what influences our intentions.
Intention signifies our desire to perform a behaviour which according to the model is a result of our attitude towards the behaviour, whether we believe it to be socially acceptable in the eyes of our peers and significant others and the degree to which the behaviour (or alternatives) are within our control.

Attitude

Attitude has been found to have the strongest association with behaviour followed by perceived behavioural control and then subjective norm. It’s an individual’s attitude towards certain foods which creates a set of beliefs such as regular fast food consumption being acceptable or it is beneficial to forgo hedonically pleasing food like french-fries in favour of more nutritious foods like vegetables.

Perceived Behavioural Control

Perceived behavioural control refers to one’s perception of the control they have over their actual behaviour in terms of the resources, time, money and opportunities available to them. Whether or not an individual believes they have the skills, time, resources and ability to prepare tasty yet healthy meals is a major influencer of food choice. An individual may regularly opt for cheap, convenient and less healthy takeaway food due to believing they do not have the time to cook a healthy meal.

Subjective Norm

Subjective norm is a social determinant which results in selection of certain behaviours over others based on what we think other people think about those behaviours. The more an individual perceives a behaviour to be a socially acceptable behaviour, the more likely they are to participate in it.
In the context of making healthy food choices, if the behaviour of eating a healthy diet full of vegetables is seen by as a positive behaviour (attitude) that is socially encouraged by your peer group and family (subjective norm) and is also within you control, as in you have these foods available to you (perceived behavioural control), would there be any reason you would eat anything but this healthy diet? The answer as we’ve already found is yes.
One reason could be (as Ajzen acknowledged himself) that intention alone is not the sole predictor of behaviour and the model doesn’t recognise the role of past behaviours or habits as an influencer of future behaviour. We often form behavioural patterns and continue to do what is familiar.
In part three of this series I’ll be covering the role habits as well as how the immediate and broader cultural environment play a large role in our attitude towards food choice behaviours. For now have a think about the following;
  1. What attitudes contribute to your food choices? For example; mashed potato has a disgusting consistency and spaghetti is inedible because it looks like worms (maybe just in my house, and no, it’s not me)! Attitude towards certain foods is the biggest influencer of food choice. To change a food behaviour we must examine our attitude first.
  2. How does your perceived behavioural control impact on your food choices? For example; I don’t have time, I don’t know how to cook, I don’t like cooking. Recognising that all these things are actually within your control is the first step.
  3. How do your social circumstances influence your food choices? Think about your work situation which can have a huge influence; “let’s all go get schnitzel burgers today at lunch time” or “I’m going to get a coffee, would you like another one?” Also your home environment; if the kids won’t eat it, should you bother making it? Absolutely, because repeated exposure to foods influences liking of those foods (research shows this) and you’re also setting the best example for them!
I hope this has given further appreciation of the complexity of food choice behaviour.
Eat your veggies!
References
  1. Ajzen, I. The theory of planned behavior. Organ Behav Hum Dec. 1991;50:179–211.
  2. McDermott MS, Oliver M, Svenson A, Simnadis T, Beck JE, Coltman T, et al. The theory of planned behaviour and discrete food choices: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Int J Behav Natr Phy. 2015;12:162.
  3. Azjen I. The theory of planned behaviour: Reactions and reflections. Psychol Health. 2011 Sep;26(9):1113-27
  4. Hardcastle SJ, Thøgersen-Ntoumani C, Chatzisarantis NL. Food Choice and Nutrition: A Social Psychological Perspective. Nutrients. 2015 Oct 21;7:8712-15.

Why Do You Eat What You Eat? Understanding Food Choices (Part 1)

By | Nutrition, Wellness

What really drives food behaviour?

There are a multitude of theories that have been developed by psychologists, nutritionists and back yard gurus in an attempt to describe and predict why we put certain foods in our mouth. Yet the food choice landscape continues to become infinitely more puzzling, with new food products, advice, diets and apps available every other day.

So, why do we eat what we eat? That’s what I’m attempting to answer over this four part series. I hope you follow along and use it as an opportunity to look inward and think about why you really eat the food you eat.

When trying to understand human behaviour it is helpful to view it in the context of what drives human behaviour. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, a well-known psychological model is a great starting point for this series as it describes the drivers of behaviour, being a desire to fulfil varying levels of needs.

You might be familiar with the model which presents five categories of needs in a pyramid with the bottom level, the physiological needs, being the most basic needs and our highest priority. It culminates in the top-level needs which are self-fulfilment needs as seen below.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs

The premise of the model is that humans will aim to meet their basic physiological needs first such as eating and drinking before going about trying to fulfil higher level needs such as the need for love and belonging or the desire for feelings of accomplishment.

Thinking about the foods we eat from the perspective of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, once a person has satisfied their physiological need for food (they are no longer hungry) and they have an adequate level of food security (they know where their next meal is coming from) their basic food needs are met.

In Australia 13.3% of people are said to live below the poverty line, which is an alarming stat, and these people are most likely concerned with meeting their physiological needs and obtaining enough food to eat. Most of the other 86% of people should have adequate food security and be able to satisfy their hunger. Their food choices would then be determined by the next level needs, the psychological needs. An example being an individual’s need for belonging impacting on the foods they choose to eat due to compromising on their own wants to satisfy the social group. They might engage in certain eating behaviour like eating takeaway because their friends desire it and it’s a socially acceptable activity. Not to mention nobody wants to be seen as judgemental or elitist for not engaging in the group activity, we’d much rather be included. Another example could be a desire for feelings of accomplishment influencing the types of restaurants a person visits, choosing upper-class experiences which fulfil a status need or what they consider a social norm.

Without broaching the subject of eating disorders, there are many ways that our psychological needs influence our eating behaviour such as eating as a reward, eating for a celebration and eating for distraction or boredom (possibly to avoid finishing a blog post or assignment)!

 

The Takeaway

To summarise part 1, the take away points are:

  1. There are varying levels of needs that we attempt to satisfy which influence our behaviour such as food choice and consumption behaviour.
  2. A majority of Australians are capable of meeting their physiological needs which results in their food choices often being influenced by psychological and self-fulfilment needs.

In part two I’m going to explore how our beliefs influence our food choice behaviour through the lens of a common behavioural process model.

Confused about metabolism? Here’s what you should know.

By | Fuel, Nutrition

No doubt you’ve heard of the word metabolism. Most people will be familiar with the idea that it can slow down as you age and that a slow metabolism could be the cause of some unwelcome extra KG’s. So, what is it and why is it important to know a little bit about it?

In a nut shell, metabolism is the sum of all the chemical reactions taking place in your body. We often associate it with the rate at which our bodies produce or “burn” energy for movement and normal function. This is known as catabolism, the breaking down of molecules and is just half of the metabolic equation. The other half is the anabolic side, which includes repairing tissue, producing enzymes or hormones and building new cells.

Our bodies are amazing and there are many ways we can produce energy from a combination of fuels found in our blood, stored in our muscles or packed in some unwanted places as body fat. Metabolic issues arise when there is a breakdown in a metabolic process such as one of the steps involved when converting fuel to energy.

There are a stack of possible reasons we can experience metabolic sluggishness, which could include poor dietary and lifestyle habits, organ failure, disease, or it could be a result of genetic or hereditary conditions. Hereditary fructose disorder is an example of a rare condition where an individual has a deficiency in producing a specific enzyme responsible for one small step in the metabolic process of breaking down fructose, a common type of sugar. Without being able to produce FP1 aldolase (the missing enzyme) the person is unable to completely metabolise fructose leading to a build up of certain molecules in the body which will lead to serious health issues if left undiagnosed. Thankfully most of us don’t need to spend much time worrying about hereditary metabolic issues, however there is a vital link between our dietary and lifestyle habits and our metabolism which is important to understand.

Metabolism is like a fire

I recently heard Ryan Faenle, an accomplished nutrition and body building coach, use the analogy of metabolism being akin to a fire. With a lot of high quality fuel, the fire rages on but as the fuel burns down the flames die down so you add another log to the fire to build it back up. Similarly, when you have a consistent diet and are continually adding the right type of fuel to your body your metabolism will act like the fire that regularly has a new log thrown on top. However, making a large change to the amount or type of fuel you consume will change the nature and size of the fire. Understanding this and how it impacts your body can be your biggest advantage or it could be your biggest dietary trap.

Let’s say you start a diet (purely hypothetical of course) and consciously reduce the fuel available to your body. For a time, say 2 to 3 weeks, your body will source the fuel to make up the deficit from other places such as stores of fat and muscle glycogen which will likely result in weight loss. Yay! Winning! However, due to receiving less fuel your metabolic rate may start to adjust, becoming slower as you begin to preserve your remaining fuel stores. Your body craves stability and will do everything is can to adjust to it’s environment. If you continue restricting fuel, your metabolism will continue to slow down to protect you from fading away into a skeleton. This is why perpetual dieting or constant fasting can lead to a slower metabolism and why fat burning results from “dietary restriction” alone will generally reduce over time.

Yo-yo dieting or crash diets are even worse and are one of the least effective strategies when trying to lose weight. Although being on a calorie restrictive diet may give you some initial results, as you start to reduce your levels of stored fuel not only will your metabolism slow down but you will begin to experience hunger. With a small amount of will power this can be tolerated for a while. If you continue restricting calories further you’re hunger may become intolerable and you will experience an increase in cravings particularly for energy dense foods (the sugary, high carb stuff). Indulging in the foods you’re craving will cause you to put on weight faster than you lost it and you’ll now be a step behind where you started. One step forward, two steps back!

Eating more can boost your metabolism

On the flip side, if your body starts receiving a gradual increase in fuel (you’re consuming more calories) it will begin to increase metabolic rate to break down, use, store or excrete the fuel faster as there is now more available. The flame gets bigger. This can be combined with other strategies to increase you metabolism, ensuring that while you increase your calorie intake you don’t just add it all to your hips. Building lean muscle mass is one strategy as muscle tissue is responsible for a large percentage of your metabolic rate due to it requiring a higher amount of energy to maintain and due to it making up approximately 40-50% of your total body weight. High intensity interval training is another proven method and there are also certain foods which have metabolism boosting properties that can be added into your diet plan.

Achieving sustainable body composition goals, creating the shape, ideal weight and tone you desire, usually requires a combination of strategies and tweaks over a number of cycles. There’s rarely shortcuts available in life and resetting your metabolism is no exception. A nutritious diet, proper exercise programming, healthy sleep habits and consciously living a healthier life takes a concerted effort. Boosting your metabolism and your energy expenditure efficiency requires holding a view of the bigger picture to properly plan for the phases and the challenges of your progress. Let me assure you it’s worth it. You’ll be rewarded with achieving the results that you want and creating sustainable healthy habits that you’re proud of in the process.

 

Need a coach to help you navigate exercise, nutrition and overall wellbeing?

If you’re not sure where to start, a coach can help you establish your baseline, map out your growth, create tailored exercise and nutrition plans and help you achieve the potential you’re capable of.

Restrict Eating Time for Weight Loss

By | Nutrition, Weight Loss

We’ve all looked in the mirror at one time or another and wanted to magic away the little bit extra that seems to have accumulated around our middle without our consent. What’s the first thing that comes to mind if I ask you what would you need to do in order to lose a few kg’s around your belly? Cut back on desserts, alcohol and chocolates and substitute those tasty chicken focaccia’s with unadulterated salads? While I’m not going to argue with that pretty reliable recipe for weight loss, however there is some fascinating research coming out now on the benefit of time restricted eating as a supplementary measure which may help you control your waist line.

Rather than restricting what you are eating or taking on another diet, restricting the time period that you allow yourself to eat each day might just have a bigger impact on your health than you think.

Dr Satchin Panda, a scientist and researcher who is leading research in the fascinating field of circadian rhythms, has demonstrated with mice that restricting eating times during the day to a 10 – 12 hour window provides a significant benefit to health and assists in regulating weight, blood sugar levels, quality of sleep and energy levels.

One such research study which has been replicated many times with mice has produced staggering evidence. In the experiment, the mice in one group are fed a high calorie, high fat diet and are able to eat their food over a long period of time and as you might expect they quickly became overweight and even obese. Another group of mice who eat the same diet and consume the same number of calories in a restricted time window are better able to maintain their weight and remain healthier as shown by a number of markers. Step back and let that sink in for a moment! Two different groups of mice ate the same food, consisting of the same number of calories with the only difference being the period of time in which they ate their food and one group got fat and the other didn’t! As I said, this study has been replicated many times with mice from the same litter.

Human volunteers are now trialling time restricted eating whilst contributing to further research in the area through a new app called myCircadianClock. Participants have indicated that within a few weeks they are experiencing better quality sleep, the feeling of having more energy and are better able to manage their weight. Anybody can sign up to participate in the trial and contribute to the research through the website myCircadiunClock.org. Participants are required to input data into the app such as what they eat and when they sleep and exercise. This app provides a great accountability tool if you have thought about tracking your sleep, exercise and nutrition habits. Of coarse you could always do this yourself or with the help of a coach.

If you would like to go deeper on the subject of circadian rhythms, follow Dr Panda’s work at the SALK Institute. He also has a TEDx talk on the subject which provides a great overview.

Bodily Functions Tied to Circadian Rhythms

Many of your body’s functions are tied into it’s natural circadian rhythm, which is akin to an inbuilt clock that regulates our bodily systems. The production of melatonin for example, known as the hormone of darkness, is a naturally produced hormone in the body that prepares your body for sleep. It is produced in increasing quantity during the evening and into the night. Then during the early hours of the morning as its levels decrease, your body’s metabolism begins to increase and prepares you for the activity of the day.

You might be surprised to know that you have melatonin receptors in many organs of your body which seems to indicate that melatonin is somewhat of a conductor keeping many hormones and body systems in synchronisation and helping to regulate the daily cycle of activity, rest and regeneration. Low levels of melatonin may impact on your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels and not only cause you to have lower quality sleep but increase fat storage.

There are many facets which impact on your state of wellbeing with sleep being a major one. When addressing a wellbeing issue or challenge, I’m an advocate for examining lifestyle factors which may be contributing to the issue. If you are having trouble with your weight, what variation could you implement to see whether it has an impact? Time restricted eating could be one such strategy well worth a go, not only to assist with weight control but also with your quality of sleep.

Implementing time restricted eating is as simple as committing to only eating during a designated 10 to 12 hour window. There is no need to race down to the supermarket to stock up for a drastic change to your diet. You could start tomorrow with an eating window of 7am to 7pm and not eating outside of those times which should be achievable for most people.

In doing so you will be assisting your body to regulate over a 24 hour cycle. Reducing late night eating will also assist you to increase your melatonin production in the evening and improve your quality of sleep.

There are many other tips and tools available to increase your sleep quality such as sleep tracking apps and reducing exposure to light in the evening. There are even specially designed blue light blocking glasses you can wear at night to counter the effects of certain spectrums of light known to reduce your melatonin production. A perfect solution if you often find your way to the front of a computer screen at night, or even a phone! Yes, I’m guilty too…

The takeaway here is that subtle changes in your routines and lifestyle can have a massive impact on your health over time. When you look back, it’s amazing how a number of seemingly small changes add up to produce a massive shift in your wellbeing and overall outlook on life. That’s the purpose of I GRASP Wellness, to help individuals and teams make incremental and sustainable adjustments to improve health and make you feel great.