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From an evolutionary perspective, we know that we have not experienced any meaningful genetic mutations from our Sapiens ancestors who roamed the planet some 70,000 years ago. Yet our culture and lifestyle are completely different now. Then, we used to be hunter-gatherers. We walked anywhere from 7km to 18km a day [1], we ate a balanced, healthy diet of whatever was available in one place – from fruits to edible roots, plants, and the odd animal – and we slept through the night.

Now, most of us lead a sedentary life. We eat when we can, what we can – often highly or ultra-processed meals – and we often sleep less than we need to. In addition, many of us don’t even get to walk for more than 2.5 km a day [2]. The problem with this major change is that our genetic code did not have time to adapt, so we’ve remained biologically suited for an entirely different lifestyle than the average one of the 21st century.

To effectively manage our health in these circumstances, we need to impose stricter eating and sleeping schedules for ourselves.

On the Go, but Not Really

We commute to work, have our food served to us from our favorite eatery, spend most of our daylight sitting at a desk, and often return home past nightfall. Back in our safe space, tired and far from fully satiated by what we had at lunch, we usually binge on all the unhealthy things we can find: ice-cream, fast-food, ready meals, sugary beverages, or some combination of these. You know, the good stuff. Many people (as I’m sure you know all too well) have little time for meal prep, so they often settle for what’s quick and available.

We might eat our food on the go, but we’re much less active than we used to be. Some are tempted to think that staying up late on a regular basis counts as using more calories, but sleep deprivation actually does a lot of harm to our bodies, since it predisposes us to obesity and irregular eating [3]. One study indicates that all it takes is one night of partial sleep for us to experience insulin resistance. Imagine what weeks, months, and even years of sleep deprivation will do to your body’s ability to manage its blood sugar. This is a major health concern for those working late or graveyard shifts.

Couple this with eating at all the inappropriate times and you’ve got a recipe for metabolic disaster. During the day, we are supposed to gain nourishment from a variety of sources, while the night is biologically meant to be a fasting period. Experts refer to this as a circadian rhythm. Instead of focusing on nourishment, we usually dedicate ourselves to working, so we end up pushing nutritionally empty calories to keep ourselves going. We reach for anything caffeine-based or ultra-processed items with high amounts of carbohydrates.

It’s no wonder we feel hungry when we get home. Most of us had no essential nutrients, nor a balanced in-take of macro-nutrients throughout the day.

The reason why Intermittent Fasting and most eating schedules work is because they assume an alignment between our eating and our biological clock. After nightfall, our bodies are supposed to be in fasted state, not struggling to digest heavy meals. Going against our DNA’s eating/fasting rhythm always results in metabolic disorders and a series of negative effects on our health that can spiral out of control really fast [4].  Alternatively, eating according to our circadian rhythm results in less overall calorie consumption, as well as greater weight loss.

Restricting your food consumption to just 8 hours during the day, as in an IF pattern, can work wonders towards getting your weight and energy levels in check. Nutritional scientists are not yet settled on what the exact times should be, but several rules seem to stand out: don’t eat more than 20% of your total energy intake at dinner and try to give yourself at least 12 hours of fasting time from one day to another.


Eat When It’s Light, Sleep When It’s Not

As a rule of thumb, our circadian rhythm is the best indicator of eating times. Within these constraints, it is your responsibility to ensure a balanced intake of macro-nutrients, as this will help you reach satiety, experience increased levels of energy throughout the day and, overall, stay healthy in the long run [5].

In addition, if you don’t get used to a regular, full sleeping schedule, your weight will be the first one to suffer, as we have seen. However, this is far from being the only victim. We know, for instance, that both our physical and cognitive performance suffers greatly when we don’t get enough sleep [6]. Our hormones go haywire, we’re more prone to making the wrong decisions, and even our thinking is transformed. It’s quite astonishing how much we change just because we don’t get to sleep [7]. In a way, we’re not ourselves.

The fundamental rules that you absolutely need to follow if they want to see improvements – are: 1) eating right, 2) sleeping right, and 3) training right.

Without these, you work against yourself, regardless of the reason you’re doing it for. Some people don’t have a choice, but, for the great majority who do, it makes no sense for their own health that they should pursue a hard-core working and/or partying schedule. Of course, it’s outstanding to break out of the rat race from time to time, but you have to make sure it’s not your health that you’re breaking.

All it takes for us to get our weight and health back in line is to implement regular, healthy eating and sleeping patterns. If we get to do this from an early age, everything is a lot easier, so those of you who are current or future parents should also help your children know the importance of these two things. Most of us undergo an uphill battle because we were not taught how to do well by our bodies early in life, set your stage and make it a happy one from the onset. Always keep in mind; everything is a choice, including your thoughts and emotions, take control of these and follow the path to happiness.

A Simple Change of Outlook

It’s not like our environment and lifestyle are particularly accommodating for the biological clock. Bright screens and lights illuminate our world 24/7, inviting us to eat, play, and work at any time. If we’re to secure both our short- and long-term health, we need to fulfill our most basic, biological needs. After all, the reason why they are called basic is not because they’re basic in any way, but because they are critical to our well-being.

Our world might have drastically changed from what it was 70,000 years ago, but our biology is pretty much the same. The inconsistency between our lifestyle and what we need can be so massive that a hunter-gatherer from way back when was, most likely, happier than a 21st-century yuppie earning six figures. 

 

 

About the Author

Paul Jenkins is the founder of DNA lean, an innovative line of sports supplements designed to provide the average gym-goer right up to the professional athlete good, honest, and research-backed supplementation for optimal performance and hormonal health.

Paul has almost 20 years of experience in sports nutrition and coaching. Although he studied an MSc in Applied Chemistry, he firmly believes that food is medicine and that natural ingredients from plants and herbs can better work in harmony with the human body to improve performance, rather than resorting to pharmaceutical drugs. Follow him on his: WebsiteInstagramFacebook