Nutritionists have been telling us for quite some time that it’s best to eat big in the morning and dine light at night. That big meals in the hours before bedtime make it hard to sleep and they make us fat. Many medical studies confirm the truth of eating heavy early for optimum weight management but the science behind the notion is just beginning to emerge. A recent study indicates eating big meals at night, especially when they’re meals big in unhealthy foods, throws off the body clock.

The wrong foods are eaten at the wrong time cause the body clock to get off schedule. When this happens, we have problems sleeping, working, learning, thinking...just about everything gets off kilter. Even our hormones respond to night and day and when we ignore night and day or do things that disrupt our body’s natural circadian rhythms, we get sick.

Drs. Chaodong Wu and David Earnest, professors at the Texas A&M University in College Station, recently discovered the mechanism that causes excess pounds to accumulate when we try to live in conflict with circadian rhythms. Inflammation builds up at the cellular level and causes changes in metabolism that lead to metabolic disorders and obesity. If we do nothing to return our daily routine to the natural human rhythm of day and night, diabetes can develop.

Wu and Earnest used mice in their study of diet and circadian rhythms. One group of mice was fed a diet high in fats and the other a more normal low-fat diet. Some of the mice getting the high-fat diet were transplanted with a certain type of immune cells that would help the researchers track changes to the physiology and immune systems of the mice. These “transplanted” mice were also subjected to interruptions of their natural sleep-wake cycles.

The mice on the high-fat diet soon became obese. Examination of fat tissues from the transplanted mice showed a build-up of macrophages, a certain kind of immune cells that cause inflammation. These cells self-regulate their own circadian rhythms independently of the body as a whole.

When the circadian rhythm of these cells is out of sync with daylight and darkness, inflammation gets worse and fat begins to accumulate. Insulin resistance soon follows. Insulin resistance is one of the first indicators that diabetes is developing.

The research team confirms the wisdom of eating bigger meals early in the day and maintaining a routine sleep schedule. Both measures will help keep every cell in the body working together, smoothly and effectively.

Source: Wu, Chaodong, et al. “Myeloid Cell-specific Disruption of Period1 and Period2 Exacerbates Diet-induced Inflammation and Insulin Resistance.” IBC / The Journal of Biological Chemistry. American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Apr 21, 2014. Web. Jun 10, 2014.