These days, many healthy diet options are available and most of them focus on nutritional balance and plate composition, while an important aspect of healthy eating – regularity of the eating pattern – takes a back seat or is even ignored. From intermittent fasting to eating food at odd times, the irony is that irregular eating patterns have become the regular norm now. Along with diet fads, the umpteen options available for late night eating or quick meals is also the culprit here.
A healthy or balanced plate notwithstanding, having irregular meals or eating at odd times is not easy on the body and can jeopardize overall health and fitness, say experts. From energy drain and injuries during workouts to dip in productivity through the day, and other physiological issues, the negative impacts are many.
Importance of regular mealtimes
Most of us would have grown up following a specific eating pattern at home and school as far as timing is concerned. This was done without knowing the reason behind it. These mealtimes, more often than not, were in sync with the circadian rhythm or the internal biological clock.
“The internal clock is in sync with the solar clock or the solar cycle, and it is ideal to have your meals between sunrise and sunset,” says Dr Vipulroy Rathod, a gastroenterologist at Fortis Hospital, Mumbai. “There are certain physiological secretions such as the hormones or the digestive acids and enzymes, which are secreted on demand when the food is available in the system. By following a regular eating time, the system gets trained to ensure the secretions occur at a particular time every day.”
Slight changes in the mealtimes will show mild symptoms of acidity and would not make much difference.
“However, two to three hours of deviation from your normal mealtime, can cause disturbances in the body,” says Meghna Mevawala, a clinical and sports nutritionist and founder of Vrieves Nutrition clinic, Bangalore.
Irregular mealtime and metabolic activity
Eating at different times every day can confuse the system, making it difficult for it to function to its optimum.
“People who have a regular meal time have better regulation of their ghrelin and leptin, which are hormones that regulate your hunger and satiety,” says Ansu Saju, a sports and preventive nutritionist from Kochi, Kerala.
“With irregular eating, the body eventually stops sending you these signals on time. With lack of satiety, you will tend to overeat. This affects how your body utilizes the fuels and disrupts the carbohydrate and fat metabolism,” she adds.
Dr Rathod adds, “Prolonged gap between two meals stimulates glucagon, a hormone secreted by pancreas to start mobilizing sugars from muscles, liver and other tissues which will drain the system of energy.”
Irregular eating habits and obesity
Eating irregularly causes sluggishness, tiredness, and fatigue. It can also come in the way of your daily chores, fitness routines and workouts.
“When you continue to eat irregularly, you are tempted to eat snacks frequently. Eating random snacks reduces the nutrient composition, increases your overall calorie consumption, and can cause overweight and obesity. It increases the waist hip ratio,” says Saju.
Research shows that eating inconsistently and having late dinners can result in high BMI and obesity.
“Eating at regular times every day will help you to maintain your fitness routine as you will be more energetic while you are doing your workout. It keeps you mentally and physically alert throughout the day,” says Mevawala.
It also helps to keep a tab on the calorie intake, crucial for someone who works out regularly.
Other effects of irregular eating
“Irregular eating is one of the major factors that increases metabolic disorders like insulin resistance, diabetes, thyroid, blood pressure, among many others” says Mevawala.
“The chronic misalignment and time shift has a negative impact on the gut microbiome as well. It causes dysbiosis which is an imbalance between healthy and the unhealthy gut bacteria leading to several metabolic diseases,” says Saju.
Inflammation and increased stress are other effects of having irregular mealtimes.
“It increases the exposure to the remaining acid in the stomach which can sometimes erode the inner lining of the stomach wall,” says Dr Rathod.
Forming a regular mealtime habit
With people having different work schedules and other activities to do in the day, having fixed timings to eat would be difficult. However, experts suggest feasible timings that can reduce the ill-effects of having irregular meal timings.
“Having breakfast one or two hours after waking up and having lunch at least by two o’clock is considered ideal,” says Saju.
“The best time to have dinner is at least three to four hours before sleeping. With continuous late night eating, sleep gets affected along with overall health and quality of their life,” says Dr Rathod.
However, for people with diabetes, there is a slight variation.
“It depends on the type of diabetes and whether the person is on medications or not. It is advisable to have a four to five hours gap between major meals and to eat one or two snacks in between the meals,” suggests Saju.
Along with the meals and its timing, having the correct eating posture is also equally important.
“Most importantly, follow a healthy mealtime and stick to it. Don’t have too many rapid changes as it confuses the body,” suggests Mevawala.
- Following irregular meal times can limit the body to function at its optimum, as it disturbs the body’s circadian rhythm.
- The physiological secretions and their timings are affected.
- Inconsistent eating timing can increase your BMI and result in obesity along with other metabolic disorders.
- Eating at a regular time every day will increase your overall fitness and you will be more energetic throughout the day.