What or When to Eat

Artificial light at night, crappy sleep, and skipping breakfast are major contributors to poor circadian rhythms.  Some bro’s insist WHAT you eat is infinitely more important than WHEN you eat.  I beg to differ, at least in part – nix the refined & processed foods and it doesn’t really matter if you prefer low fat or low carb (P<0.05).  Evidence: Hunger-free diet(s).


Exhibit A.  On the other hand, feed two people identical diets but induce circadian disruption in one and whammo – big difference in outcome.



Significantly less fat loss and more muscle loss in the circadian disrupted group.

Interindividual variability? Yes.  Statistical significance? YES.





Exhibit B.



From Khatib et al., 2016



Exhibit C.  Circadian disruption is associated with decreased leptin, increased ghrelin, and increased hunger and appetite (eg, Spiegel et al., 2004 & Hibi et al., 2017)… and you end up making poor food choices (eg, Khatib et al., 2016) possibly due, in part, to increased endocannabinoids (Hanlon et al., 2016).


“Skipping breakfast and poor sleep linked to obesity,” because duh (Mayor 2016).


Tl;dr: eat when you’re supposed to (during the day) and sleep well (at night).


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  • Man

    The conclusion of your post is the reason why I’ve lost about all interest in nutrition 😀

    You could also add: move your butt when you’re supposed to 😉

  • rs711

    “eat when you’re supposed to (during the day) and sleep well (at night)”

    that sums it up well. take 3 meals a day for example, do you think eating them with regularity is superior to having them earlier in the day?

    • TechnoTriticale

      re: …take 3 meals a day…

      Indeed. What is the ancestral case for that?

      In the agricultural era, it’s easy to see how the practice grew, due to the glucose/insulin rollercoaster, but what’s the story prior to that?

      • rs711

        to me, our mix of omnivory & our capacity to obtain & digest high calorie nutrient dense foods suggests that we do well with regular food intake throughout the day (2-3 meals) + fast intermittently (or do longer fasts) throughout the month/year. I don’t see this pattern as an inherently negative stress like Bill seems to, but it’s also true that none of us have numbers to precisely quantify that stress.

  • Eve

    But when does the nighttime hunger/appetite go away? If I could have as much disinterest in food in the evening as I do upon rising, I’d be set.

    • Try skipping dinner first — I bet you’ll be hungrier than normal the following morning. It might take a few weeks to get used to, though.

    • Man

      I’ve been through that. I had tried one meal a day in the evening, a lot of IFing (40+ hours every week or so), etc. It did NOTHING to improve my health / body comp. I’d say it made it slightly worse because I was thinking about food most of the time (was worst at the beginning of ramping up this way of eating).

      I took a 180 deg. turn and never looked back. I was forcing myself a little at the beginning, but then I got used to it, hunger signals were slowly “reprogrammed” re timing.

      After all these years monkeying around with nutrition, I am back to 3 meals / day more or less, with an emphasis on more food in the AM. I will have occasional feasts and more frugal days (aka skipping dinner or more rarely a 24 hour fast) but my health is now really good, I am no longer obsessed with rigid schedules and food types (*), and I make sure to sleep as much as I can at night. I get up fairly early every day (6am), and start with a big glass of water, and I eat around 7-7:30.

      (*) I highly prioritize real whole foods and make sure to get an adequate amount of proteins (be they from animal or plant foods). I do occasionally have some type of processed foods (e.g. French croissants, chocolate) but by far, fruits / veggies / lean protein with a bit of fatty stuff to round it all is my basic diet. Don’t plan to change any time soon. I also work out regularly and I could use some more calories at times but my budget is very limited.

  • Wab Mester

    If this were true, then cops, nurses, truck drivers, and the nighttime cleaning crew would be the fattest people in the world. Oh. Wow.

  • AlwaysEmpty

    Wait, what does Exhibit A have to do with timing of food consumption? Doesn’t that simply show, if anything, that reduced sleep may make you fatter than you would have if you had slept more? Nothing is said about at what time the subjects had their meals. Or, do I miss something?

    • “Artificial light at night, crappy sleep, and skipping breakfast are major contributors to poor circadian rhythms.”

      Might be a bit of a stretch, but I was grouping poor sleep together with late meal timing since they have similar [negative] effects on circadian rhythms (and body composition, glucose control, etc.).

      • David


        Love your work and your practical, evidence-based approach to nutrition, circadian rhythms, and other aspects of lifestyle.

        I wanted to ask about your advice and perhaps your personal perspective on the tradeoffs between blue light exposure and being antisocial.

        How do you approach social gatherings at night e.g., dinners out, etc.?

        Appreciate any and all insight.

        Thank you!

  • Pedro Luis Schütz