Food is the greatest vehicle through which we expose exogenous (outside the body) substances to our body. What we ingest is no more than chemical information packets that direct our cellular machinery to behave and operate in specific ways. Food is the primary language we have to communicate with our body, and communication (information exchange) is key to a thriving ecosystem.
Everyone has dieted and everyone has failed. Food choice is a psychological game that we are not well equipped to deal with. Unless we educate ourselves on what is really going on, we are severely disadvantaged in an unfair fight. A big part of this is changing the language we use to describe the food we eat. This is not a diet. Diets are temporary and don’t work. We must focus on small changes that can be implemented for the rest of our lives. We wont’t be listing foods you “can’t have.” When you mentally tag a food as something “I can’t have,” you have just lost a battle in this realm of psychological warfare – there is always that small part of us that wants only what we cannot have. This is not about counting calories or joining a Facebook group for the newest fad diet. Food can get complicated and even tribal, so we will attempt to remove the extraneous information and focus on the things that actually make a difference. These are a a few simple rules to help you change your relationship with food.
Rule 3: It’s not just what you eat, but WHEN you eat
When we start thinking about losing weight or “eating healthier,” I would contest most of the thinking centers around what we eat and how much we eat. This is, in fact, only part of the story. The leg of the stool that often goes unnoticed is when we eat. This idea is gaining some popularity, and is often discussed under the terms intermittent fasting or time restricted feeding. I am going to focus here on time restricted feeding, or eating for certain hours of the day and fasting for the remaining hours.
Our bodies are beautifully complex units made up of numerous small machines (proteins) working together to transform energy (food) into usable forms. When we eat food, our body first breaks it down into its fundamental components. Clearly, there is no place for a carrot in our muscle or cardiac cells, but the chemicals components that make up the carrot can be salvaged by our intricate digestive processes. With the raw materials at hand, our body can distribute the resources and initiate processes that allow the body to grow and expend energy.
The pathway that food follows before it in a usable form is one where many different machines work together in harmony. Think about a factory that takes in all sorts of materials, but those materials come into the factory all stuck together. Stuck together in these big, conglomerates of cloth, wood, plastic, glass, and anything you can imagine. Now before any of those materials are usable by the factory, the mixture has to be separated into its component parts. But it’s not that simple. In this factory there are specific machines that can grab and sort glass, other machines that seek out the wood, special machines for the plastic, etc. All of the many different machines are required to fully disentangle the mass of raw material. It is also important that all of the machines be present and working together. If the bolus of resources arrives and only the plastic and wood devices are at the scene, you end up with a huge amount of unprocessed, improperly processed, and unusable material.
Now it would also be very inefficient for the factory to be fully staffed with all machines ready for action 24/7. Especially if the factory knew when the resources were going to brought in. If there are two major deliveries scheduled for the day, you would only want to have the machines powered up around the times when those deliveries would be made. The most profitable business plan would be to have all the machines show up just prior to the arrival of the first delivery, and then to send everyone home after the second package has been fully broken down.
This is the efficiency our body is attempting to orchestrate. Believe it or not, every system in our body has internal clocks that help it do determine daily patterns and reoccurring events. This is the essential fist step to optimizing the system. You have to have a scaffolding of something like time in order to recognize recurring events. When it comes to eating, these clocks are leveraged to ensure our body is fully prepared to break down the food and grab as many useful bits as possible.
Now being the incredibly adaptive animals we are, our machines don’t completely go on strike, or blatantly refuse to show up to work. When we eat at abnormal times we send a signal for everyone to come back to the factory. All the machines that had already been sent home return to the factory, reluctantly or otherwise. This feeding outside of the normal window also sends a signal to the internal clock system in order to influence a slight adjustment. Its a signal saying our predictions were not quite right today, lets adjust to this new information, and try a better prediction tomorrow. So if we are constantly changing when we eat, our body is never able to realize the incredible efficiency it is always attempting to create.
To make this concrete and applicable, try intaking all of your calories within a 12 hour section of the day. I think most people would be able to accomplish this. As soon as you have your first caloric intake (yes drinks with calories count), start your clock and make sure to finish your last meal before 12 hours later. As you get comfortable with this you can begin to shrink your feeding window and lengthen your fasting window. Not only does this help the biochemical processes in your body, you will also notice changes in the sensations of hunger and satiety. And remember Rule 1.
Going forward we will dive into the biochemical benefits of time restricted eating. Hopefully this post allows you to have a structural and foundational understanding of what the idea is. Thanks for reading.