Sometime between the ages of 40 and 50, ever so slowly, a new body part had appeared on my waistline. I noticed it one day when I attempted to zip up an old pair of jeans. What happened to that “relaxed fit?” Enter my new friend— belly fat.
Up until I was 45, I just didn’t have belly fat. I gained it in other places. In fact, I thought I might be one of the lucky few to escape this symptom of mid-life. Heck, I exercised regularly and I sweared off sugar so why was I getting thicker in the middle? Nothing else had changed. Or so I thought.
A blood test confirmed that my production of the hormones estrogen and progesterone had slowed down. Meanwhile, my testosterone levels also started to drop. This shift in hormones causes women to hold onto weight in their bellies. If you want a more detailed explanation about that click here. The good news: you can fight this process.
In fact, I found with two simple lifestyle changes, it was easier than I thought. Here’s some new science you may not have considered.
Are you a calorie counter? I was. For years, I lectured on the virtues of balancing calories. Balancing food intake with exercise. But times have changed.
Guess what? A calorie you eat in the morning isn’t the same calorie if you eat it at night. You see, in the morning our bodies are primed for food intake. The body clock that wakes us up in the morning also prepares our body metabolism for food digestion, physical activity and energy production. Cortisol is highest in the morning when we need food. Then as the day darkens, our hormones shift again and our body prepares for fasting. This is our natural circadian rhythm. We need a prolonged fasting period at the end of every day to stay healthy. If your body could talk it would say “please close the kitchen now—I need to rest”.
So, yep, if you’re following me here, there is a problem when we eat food too late in the day (or the night) when our hormones, enzymes and metabolic functions are preparing the body for sleep and essentially a “reboot.” Our metabolism slows. If it didn’t we wouldn’t be able to fall asleep. Studies show that a meal eaten at 9 AM in the morning produces a 30% higher metabolic rate than the same one eaten at 1 AM at night. Think about that!
And to make it worse, when we eat later in the day, like snacks after dinner, we need more insulin to keep blood glucose under control because at night glucose metabolism is impaired. In fact, blood glucose levels can be 30-50 mg/dl higher in the afternoon and evening than in the morning. Remember when blood glucose is high (from food digestion) we need to produce insulin to break it down and absorb it. Producing insulin all day long into the evening is one reason why many of us have more belly fat. Its a fat storage hormone!
Late night snacks = more blood glucose produced = more insulin = more fat storage in the belly
SO WHAT TO DO?
Animal studies have shown that meal timing makes a big difference. When mice are fed their meals within an 8- 12 hour window, they shown improvements in body weight, belly fat, glucose control, cholesterol and inflammation compared with mice that eat the same number of calories over a 24 hour period.
And caloric restriction later in the day seems to be good for the brain, too. It helps to preserve long-term memory. Don’t you want to feel sharper in the morning?
So I believe the answer lies in meal timing. Eating our meals within a 9-10 hour window during the day, like between 8 am to 5 pm reduces the need for extreme calorie counting and lets our body enter a “needed” fasting state.
How do I do this? Well, I push breakfast out to around 9 am (when I can) and I eat more food in the morning. Then I try and eat a lighter dinner before 6 pm. Usually its pretty simple. And honestly, I can’t do this on weekends. So I really try to do this during the week. Has it made a difference? Let’s see….
…..I sleep better, I wake up more refreshed, I have more energy to exercise in the morning, and best of all I’ve lost 5 pounds so far this month.
Give it a try and let me know what you think. OH, and what’s the second change? Strength training. Click here for more on that.
To Your Health!