Sick of following quick-fix diets only to lose 5lb and then put on 7lb a month later?

Fifty seven per cent of us are ramping up our weight-loss efforts this summer according to new research by UK gym chain, DW Fitness Clubs, and if you’re looking to beat the bulge now that bikini season is finally here, there’s one key rule that could set you on the path to reaching your goals faster. Want to know more? Well forget getting bogged down with calorie counting, as it’s not just what you eat but when you eat that can make a huge difference to the number on the scales, according to science. 

Timing your food intake around your body clock – otherwise known as your circadian rhythm – helps you to harness the most of your metabolism and fat-burning potential, researchers say. ‘Our bodies have an internal “clock” that is situated in the brain. This clock regulates our circadian rhythm, the 24-hour biological cycle that influences many internal functions. It determines when our bodies are primed to stay awake and be productive, and when we feel tired and want to go to sleep. Disruptions, for example, in how much we sleep are now known to play a role in obesity and blood sugar balance,’ explains nutritionist Christine Bailey

Energy boost

There is a lot of research to indicate that changes in our body clock, particularly sleep deprivation, can be linked to increased risk of chronic diseases and weight gain. The latest research, carried out by the Weizmann Institute of Science revealed that getting out of sync with your 24-hour circadian clock may increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes; and becoming more aware of your body’s cellular activities will help you take better advantage of weight-loss potential. 

‘The majority of studies indicate that being out of sync with your biological clock can lead to an alteration in glucose metabolism, increased appetite and decreased energy expenditure – so, often when we are tired we eat more, lose regulation of appetite and crave sugary foods to pick us up,’ adds Christine. The findings of the study, which was carried out on genetically modified mice, suggests that mitochondria – otherwise known as our cells’ energy powerhouses – may be more efficient at utilising certain nutrients at different
times of the day. 

Results showed that four hours after sunrise appears to be the best time to have breakfast, as fat- and sugar-burning are at their optimum levels thanks to a special enzyme located in the mitochondria, which peaks at this time. 

The study also uncovered that the protein responsible for the entry of fatty acids into the mitochondria was at its optimal level at the 18th hour after sunrise, which means that fat processing also peaks around this time. 

Keep your gut healthy

Just as we use daylight as a signal to rise and darkness as a signal to sleep, we’re also used to eating during the day rather than night-time. This has an effect on our gut microbiome, the good bacteria that line our gut. Our microbiome doesn’t have any access to light in order to set its circadian rhythm – instead it relies on eating patterns during the day to set its cycle. 

While we can reset our rhythms by waking and eating at different times, our gut bacteria don’t get to reset their cycle, which means that microflora don’t flourish as well when we abruptly change our eating cycles. What this essentially means is that eating outside of your body’s natural pattern changes the quantity and composition of gut microbes and their biological activities. 

Keeping levels of these beneficial bacteria high helps us to metabolise food more efficiently, while also controlling blood sugar levels – so it’s important we stick to regular mealtimes throughout the day and avoid night-time noshing. 

A balanced diet

Just as it’s important to eat three square meals, if you’re exercising hard or waiting for a long time in between meals, snacking is important. ‘In this instance, snacking may be helpful to stabilise blood sugar – but pick protein-based snacks rather than carbohydrate or sugary snacks or those that are “empty” calories,’ says Christine. And try to avoid munching before bedtime, as eating late in the day when your metabolism starts to become less efficient can cause a sudden rise in blood sugar that can trigger fat storage. ‘One of the worst things about eating late is its effect on digestion – if your body is busy trying to digest a lot of food it can interfere with your sleep,’ says Christine.  

If you’re looking to shed pounds, it’s also essential to look at what you’re piling onto your plate. The type of food you eat has a huge impact on hunger, appetite and the hormones that control your weight. ‘For instance, eating a 100-calorie pack of pretzels isn’t a good idea because it contains refined carbs. These can raise blood sugar levels, cause hunger and lead to overeating. By contrast, getting the same amount of calories from a high-protein food, such as a small pot of cottage cheese, results in hormone changes that lead to increased fullness and a reduced hunger. 

Protein has a higher thermic effect than either carbs or fat, meaning it burns more calories during digestion,’ explains Christine. Studies have demonstrated that calorie intake often spontaneously declines when carbs are restricted, and that weight-loss is greater on low-carb diets compared with low-fat diets. ‘With this in mind, fill at least one third of your plate with lean protein then pack loads of colourful vegetables and keep the carbohydrate slow-releasing – for example, choose sweet potato or oatcakes, and keep portions small,’ says Christine.

Your 24-hour guide to boosting weight-loss

Eat for your rhythm and improve your eating habits during the course of a day

6-8am: Exercising before breakfast may help to boost fat-burn, according to research. So go for a quick morning run to expose your body to natural sunlight, which helps to reset a more efficient sleep-wake cycle. 

9am: Drink a cup of hot water and lemon for a cleansing supercharge. Drinking prior to meals instead of midway between aids digestion and beats the bloat. 

10-10.30am: Four hours after sunrise and it’s time for breakfast! Fuel up with a green smoothie bowl made with half an avocado, 250ml almond milk, 2tbsp frozen mixed berries, 50g spinach leaves, 1tsp almond butter and 1tbsp flaxseed. Blend until creamy, pour into a bowl and top with 1tbsp mixed seeds and 1tbsp mixed berries. 

11.30am: Boost energy levels with a cup of green tea and 1 sliced apple topped with 1tsp almond butter. 

1pm: It’s lunchtime, so enjoy a healthy meal that includes all food groups, like 1 poached salmon fillet served with 1 baked sweet potato with 1tbsp crème fraîche and a large salad.

3-4pm: Energy levels start to wane so snack
on 2 oatcakes with 1tbsp houmous to stay vitalised. 

6-8pm: Eating dinner early leaves enough time for digestion before bed. Nosh on 1 grilled chicken breast with pesto with unlimited greens and a 40g serving of brown rice.

3 ways to boost your circadian rhythm

Incorporate these simple tips into your daily routine to help hone the perfect summer body 

1 Get enough sleep 

Getting around seven to eight hours of sleep a night will help keep your metabolism fired up and appetite hormones leptin and ghrelin in check. Can’t switch off? Avoid the laptop and other electronic devices at least one hour before bedtime.

2 Rise And shine

Early risers tend to weigh less than night owls, according to scientists. Why? It’s thought that exposure to morning sunlight regulates your biological clock, which helps with fat-burning. Try to get outside in the sunshine first thing in the morning, with the aim of spending around 20-30 minutes in direct sunlight, should the sun decide to make an appearance! 

3 CUT caffeine

Avoid drinking caffeinated drinks after lunchtime. Caffeine blocks sleep-inducing chemicals in the brain and its side effects can often last well into the evening.