Ever had that satisfying feeling when you are in control of your eating; when you are able to say no to that extra food knowing you have eaten enough or just aren’t feeling particularly hungry that day? Chances are you’ve experienced this but the feeling comes and goes. Before you realise it your portion sizes have doubled and treats are common occurrence. You tell yourself that you should have more discipline and that you will have more control tomorrow or that this one piece of cake is ‘just a little treat’.
How would you feel if I told you this is not your ‘fault’? That it’s your ‘food clock’ playing tricks with you! What a relief! Sometimes just understanding ourselves eases the struggle.
What is the ‘food clock’?
It’s a collection of genes and molecules known as the “food-entrainable oscillator”. The what-a-lator?! Put simply it’s like our ‘body clock’. Where our ‘body clock’ keeps track of events and activities and aims to maintain a 24 hr day and night rhythm, the ‘food clock’ aims to control the amount of food we eat as well as the time we eat. Genes start to turn on as we anticipate food and we then experience hunger pangs, digestive enzymes are released and our body prepares to absorb nutrients.
It is thought that the food clock is set to prime foraging and hunting hours of the day but it can be altered. So if you don’t eat during the day your body will wake you at night searching for food – to survive. Eating at night when the digestive system thinks it should be sleeping can cause overeating as the gut isn’t aware of when it is ‘full’. Likewise if we overeat and eat meals at the wrong times of day in the wrong circumstances our priming for food breakdown becomes less reactive until we feel a general sort of yearning and dissatisfied desire…which we fill with more food.
How can we overcome this?
Planning what we will eat, how much of it and when we will eat it prevents overeating! It is best to eat when we are mindful of our food. If we prepare a meal and sit down to eat it when we are hungry our body is primed to digest it. If we eat when we are busy doing other things our digestive system isn’t primed and the food sits undigested and unabsorbed – causing weight gain amongst other health problems. You may be interested to know that we can reset our ‘food clock’ quite quickly. It only takes a couple of days to reset satisfaction levels from portion sizes. Reducing portion sizes by a third or even half for 3 days (if you have been overeating) can reset your food clock and have you back on the path in no time.
What’s for breakfast tomorrow then .
Handy tip: Not eating for 16 hours can reset the body clock so if you are travelling long-haul this technique can reduce jetlag.
University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) (2012, December 21). How excess holiday eating disturbs your ‘food clock’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 8, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/12/121224113351.htm
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (2008, May 23). Food-related Clock In The Brain Identified. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 8, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080522145213.htm