If you don't want to change what you eat, you can still improve your health by changing when you eat!
A few weeks ago I watched a video which has now added an entire new dimension to the way that I coach people in regards to nutrition. I waited until now to write about it, because I wanted to try it for myself first and the impact that it has had has been pretty incredible. I’m talking about a term coined by Dr Satchin Panda called Time Restricted Feeding (TRF). At first glance, you might think that this is just another way to talk about fasting again and yeah, it carries a lot of the same benefits, but how you go about it is a little different. Dr Panda wanted to stay away from the term fasting for two reasons. One; if you are going to tell anyone not eat when they are normally used to, they most likely will put up some resistance and not follow through. Two; the emphasis with TRF is on compressing your daily eating window as opposed to extending your hours of non-eating, in an effort to give your systems of repair time to do their job on your DNA and damaged cells. Very subtle difference but I’ll explain why this matters below.
So what’s gotten me so excited about this? The most impactful change that this has had to my life is that it has been the fastest and most effective way to control my gut inflammation. Even with a clean diet and awareness of what certain foods do to my body, inflammation is something that I have struggled with for a long time. It effects my mood, my energy levels and my communication with other people. After just a few days of TRF, all inflammation was gone and it has stayed that way ever since. I’m also sleeping better, I’m more energized, I’m eating less and I’m feeling sustained.
Beyond what I personally have felt from this, studies have shown numerous benefits in rats, flies and humans to their metabolic health, meaning better glucose regulation, insulin sensitivity, maintaining lean muscle mass and keeping fat off. But there’s more, 13 hours of fasting (or eating in a 9-hour window) has proven to lower breast cancer recurrence by 40% and reduced mortality rates by 20%. That’s huge! TRF lowers many other hormones that are known to promote other cancer types too.
Let me tell you how this works. When you first put something in your stomach that isn’t water, you start your metabolic clock, triggering all kinds of enzymatic and metabolic processes. We are talking about circadian rhythms again here. After 12 hours, these things start to shut down and if you keep eating, your body’s normal processes won’t work as well to take care of the food. If you keep eating after this 12-hour window, what follows is an increase in fat gain, you become more insensitive to insulin and your muscle starts to waste. Conversely when you implement TRF, you can actually gain lean muscle mass (if using a 10-hour window), your mitochondria work better (little cells which produce your body’s energy) and you can even improve your endurance (when working in a 9-hour window). Studies showed that in even in groups who had no other dietary change, TRF still produced weight loss. Mice studies still showed positive results even with two cheat nights. That’s good news if you have a social life.
So how do you go about getting yourself on a TRF schedule? You will get benefits from being on a 12-hour schedule so let’s start there. If your first coffee or your first bite of food is at 7:00am, your last bite needs to be at 7pm. It’s that simple. If you want to get yourself on the 9-hour schedule (which is even more beneficial) and you start at 7am, your last bite needs to be at 4pm. This obviously isn’t very realistic for some people so you will likely want to fast a little longer in the morning. An important note on inflammation here, if you are eating late into the night, you will not get the anti-inflammatory benefits. All of this goes back to circadian rhythms. It’s not just some fancy science experiment using Fitbits and computers. If you remember from previous writings, we run on a cycle with the sun and the moon and we have evolved to eat that way too. So if you are fasting all day and eating a big meal at night, you’ve got it all backwards.
If you have enough on your plate already and this sounds like it’s all too much, there are apps that can help too; Zero is the simplest of the two, in which you simply start the timer when you have your last meal and it will alert you when your fasting period is up. Mycircadianclock requires a little more data and gives you even more control and vision over your daily eat, sleep and exercise habits. The data you input is actually collected and studied by Dr Panda and his team and used to produce the statistics I have shared with you today. Personally I use both and would recommend them to everyone.
If you would like to learn more about TRF, you can go to Dr Panda's site mycircadianclock.org, which has a tonne of information and videos on everything you just read about, including more from Dr Rhonda Patrick and her Found My Fitness podcast, which is a huge source of information for me on all the nitty gritty science stuff that I froth on.