3 new strategies for obesity: Part 1 the Circadian Rhythm Method

Of body clocks, microbes and micronutrients…and the invention of the light bulb…

Continuing the saga of obesity affecting every species everywhere, and three novel strategies to try for those who’ve tried everything.

These are the days of miracle and wonder. We spend our days and nights at screens that connect us to vast information, on the other side of the planet, unbelievably quickly. We live indoors in comfort, away from the elements and eat unseasonal (and unrecognizable, to our ancestors) foods year-round, all at a click of that same screen. Hard labour does not come into it. We jetset across time zones.

Is it any mystery that our bodies have lost track of how to regulate the complex dance of very fundamental time patterns? Our body clocks, and there are several of them, are confused, unsynchronised. Would you trust a clock from a shop where all the clocks chime at different times? No? So what makes you think having a body like that is a good idea?

Jaminet’s recipe for restoring healthy circadian rhythm is quite the lifestyle change. Why does he pick these rhythms as not just important, but one of the three most important priorities for our health? Not by picking petals off daisies that’s for sure.

Our internal circadian clock sets many daily body cycles (sleep, mood, brain function, appetite, hormones and digestion). The process of renewal and repair, rest and coordinated bodily activity. People deprived of sleep have higher rates of heart attack, stroke, cancer, endocrine disorders … need I go on? Oh yes, what does it have to do with obesity?

Being deprived of adequate deep sleep leads to higher cortisol (read: stress, high blood glucose and abdominal obesity), higher insulin and leptin (equals insulin and leptin resistance, read: more hunger and risk of diabetes). Night-shift workers weigh more, and have higher risk of a shopping list of diseases (breast cancer anyone?) From personal experience (of sleep apnea), if your sleep is not restful (say you snore) it’s a major health risk. Disrupted sleep increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, cancer and hormone disorders like PCOS.

Fixing your circadian rhythm requires quite a rethink; turning your modern life inside out (bar going ‘wild life’ in the bush). Remember if your genes threw you those obesogenic dice, you have to work on everything at once. But improving sleep is a snap for anyone who’s tried starvation diets or hours on a treadmill. Dr Jaminet’s records of people he has worked with show their weight ‘set point’ drops to normal after a few days of working on the ‘big three’ (circadian rhythm, microbes and micronutrients). You’ve got nothing to lose from resetting your circadian rhythm for a couple of weeks, and seeing how that works.

When thinking about sleep and circadian rhythm, most people have heard a bit about light. But there are indeed five common ‘timegivers’ that your body reads to determine if it is day or night

  • Light (intensity, colour)
  • body temperature
  • eating and drinking patterns
  • exercise (intense and sustained vs gentle and relaxing)
  • social interaction.

Jaminet’s specific strategies are like night and day…(see what I did there?):

Daylight

  • go outside (an hour or more if you can, before 9am, to start your daytime clock early); at noon get time in the brightest sun when the sky is at its brightest blue; if you have to be inside use bright, blue/white lights
  • eat only in daylight (breakfast soon after sunrise kickstarts your metabolism, don’t skip it; eat before sunset)
  • exercise during the day, a bit of high intensity, and lots of walking outside
  • do stressful things, and interact with people (or your TV or dog)
  • allow yourself to get warm, even hot (aircon is not your friend).

Dr Jaminet’s research shows that most of the benefits of exercise appear to be due to its power in setting circadian rhythm, so if you exercise at night, you’re working harder than you need to. If you are a ‘slow’ caffeine metaboliser, no coffee after lunchtime! (yes, it’s a thing, I have it). Thanks for ruining my coffee life, 23andme).

Night-time (yes, when it’s dark at sunset, we’re not talking Cinderella at midnight)

  • put light modulating apps (twilight, f.lux, blue blocker) on your screens; after   sunset, either wear the goofy orange ‘blue-blocking’ glasses, or switch off white lights, turn on gentle lamps with red/orange bulbs (note to self: install deterrent against hopeful male visitors); and try not to trip over the black cat or objets trouve by your big toe (ouch)
  • no food from sunset until ‘break-fast’ (a gentle intermittent fast that does not lower your metabolism); no, not any evening snacks
  • gentle, relaxing, de-stressing activity: mindfulness, meditate, yoga, stretch, read or journal (screens with writing – yes; action movies with faces – no)
  • minimise ‘activating’ social interactions – a few trusty friends, good times
  • let your body temperature drop close to bed-time (don’t have a hot bedroom)
  • set a regular sleep/wake time with enough sleep to feel rested; set your alarm to natural, not ‘alarming’ sounds (the dawn chorus of birdsong).

‘Science’ knows that eating during the evening is a bad idea; for the same calories, having any night-time snack results in weight gain compared to eating only in the daytime. Like exercising at night, eating at night confuses your body clock and that brings bad things (worse for some than for others).

If you don’t feel rested in the morning, I urge you to invest in getting any sleep issues diagnosed. It can add decades to your life. You don’t have to snore to have it, Sleep apnea is no joke, and common for us ‘traditionally built’. Being choked hundreds of times a night raises your stress levels off the charts, and mucks up all kinds of systems. All it takes is a simple at home test overnight (an oximeter on your finger). If you know you have sleep apnea, you can fix it.

Seasons

Yes, in winter your overnight fast is longer… daylight is shorter, air temperatures colder…discomfort! Google ‘heat shock proteins’ and ‘ageing’. It turns out that temperature variations (both hot and cold) are good for us. I’m sorry to say, those ‘polar bear’ midwinter swim crazies are actually onto something. So don’t fear a bit of temperature change. Embrace your inner Eskimo! Or call in sick and hibernate.

Our bodies expect seasonal variations in food, with abundant autumn (‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, beaded bubbles winking at the brim) being the time to eat carbs and store fat ready for winter. In cold winter, eat those winter-fattened elk (you know what I mean), in spring rebirth: new leaves and eggs. Summertime, all the livin’ is easy…fish are jumpin’….

Our current eating and living patterns are telling our body clock it is day all the time and autumn all the time. It’s just possible that this could be mucking up the signals you need to balance your hormones and hunger signals.

So there you have it – be vigilant about your circadian rhythm. Be creative about getting outside during the day, absolutely prioritise it. And prioritise no blue or white light at night. Sound easier than a starvation diet? You betcha!

I hope that leaves you on tenterhooks for the next exciting instalments: microbes and micronutrients. Unless it’s after sunset, in which case I hope this was a thoughtful and relaxing read.

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