Festive feasting and your ‘food clock’

By Siski Green, Thursday 3 January 2013

Has your ‘food clock’ been turned upside down by festive feasting?
Christmas lunchResearchers found that your body responds to mealtimes and meal amounts in a similar way that it does to sleep

A night of disrupted sleep can make you feel low in energy for days afterwards, and according to research from the University of California, US, the same is true of your diet.

When you adjust your usual diet with a big blow out, such as that at Christmas, it has a similarly disrupting effect on your body’s natural balance.

Researchers from the University of California have found that being jet-lagged, working late shifts or eating high-fat, high-sugar snacks at bedtime all have a similar effect on the human body, disrupting what are termed as ‘body clocks’.

Most people are aware that their body has a sleep clock – if you don’t get to sleep at your usual time for your usual number of hours, you’ll feel tired the next day. Few people, however, are aware that the body also has a ‘food clock’.

According to the researchers, your body responds to mealtimes and meal amounts in a similar way that it does to sleep – ie if you have a pattern and then disrupt it by eating a lot or very little, for example, your body’s natural equilibrium is adversely affected. The hormones it would usually release before a meal, giving you those telltale hunger pangs, for example, wouldn’t be released, which in turn affects how you digest your food.

Using mice, the researchers have pinpointed the protein that allows the body to respond to long-term changes in mealtimes. Rather than feeding the mice during their normal waking hours, they fed them when they would usually be asleep. Some of the mice had the protein, others did not. The mice who did not have the protein did not wake up to feed whereas mice who had it adjusted their sleeping patterns so that they woke up naturally when it was time to eat.

This, say the researchers, has implications for many food-related diseases such as diabetes and obesity. It shows that the body is able to adjust to a change in mealtimes if the change is long-term, but eating at unusual times of day desynchronizes the body’s internal clock and may mean to greater weight gain or an altered metabolic process.


The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.

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