You’ve probably heard that skipping breakfast often leads to unwanted weight gain, because we often eat energy-dense junk food later on to make up for it. But did you know that it also wreaks havoc on your hormones – because they start crying out for refined sugar and fat in a bid to fuel your body?
This can then cause you to put on extra pounds, and weight gain can lead to respiratory difficulties which disturbs your sleep. So it becomes a vicious circle, because when you don’t sleep enough, your appetite increases, and the whole cycle continues on and on until, more often than not, a health crisis forces you to stop and make some lifestyle changes.
We are all so busy during the week that we are tired at weekends and so often spend longer in bed, if possible. But then it’s easy to feel tired because you’ve had too much sleep. At weekends we often eat differently to the rest of the week, so that throws things out of balance too. If you go out on a Friday night and go to bed later than usual that confuses your body even more and then it’s hard to get up on a Monday morning.
What is crucial to remember if you want to look and feel your best is not to mess around with your body’s natural circadian rhythms – better known as the human body clock. Our circadian rhythms of digestion, sleep, hormone production, etc. interact to create a kind of timetable of the day and night which our bodies follow. A biological ‘master clock’ located in the central nervous system coordinates the different circadian clocks in order to keep them in sync.
Disturbed sleep and irregular mealtimes create corresponding disturbances in our circadian clocks and make it difficult for the biological master clock to hold things together. This can contribute to all kinds of health problems, including diabetes, heart disease and hormone-related issues:
“Monday was always exhausting for me,” Helen Thomson, 34, tells Lumity. “I’d exist on coffee and binge-eat mid-morning, or I’d forget to have lunch and have a whole packet of cookies with several large mugs of tea mid-afternoon in a bid to give myself some energy. I had terrible acne a lot of the time and I started to slowly pile on weight, plus I was ridiculously tired all the time. I’d often wake up in the middle of the night and be unable to sleep and I’d go out and party with colleagues on Friday nights but then spend most of the weekend in bed – just exhausted.
“Finally I was diagnosed with adrenal fatigue and, after completely crashing with exhaustion, it has taken me two years to heal and feel healthy and energised again.”
The key, Helen says, was paying attention to her body’s circadian rhythms: “I started to go to bed and wake up at set times every morning and night, so I am in bed by 10pm and up at 6am – no matter how tired I am, I aim for eight hours a night. And I eat balanced meals at set times within reason, aiming for 8am, 1pm and 6pm for my main meals and not snacking on anything that will play havoc with my blood sugar.
“I also gave up coffee, even though it pained me to do so, but I switched to green tea, and I only have two cups a day. I rarely drink alcohol and I go to the gym or for a brisk walk every morning. I’ve lost two stone and my PMT isn’t as bad as it was so I’ve really levelled out. It has been a long journey and I wish I hadn’t pushed my body to the point where I was forced into taking action and living a more healthy lifestyle.”
Theoretically, it should be easier for most of us than it was for Helen to counteract keep our circadian rhythms in check. If you aim to wake up and go to bed at the same time every night, and eat regular, nutritious meals – as well as exercising – you should feel pretty balanced and healthy.
But in practice, other factors – like having small children or a heavy workload – often create chaos with our body clocks as well.
If you have been feeling tired and run down recently and putting on weight then the 80:20 lifestyle, where you go to bed and wake up at the same time as well as having regular mealtimes and exercising in the week – then relaxing the rules at weekends – is going to have a bigger benefit to your health than doing nothing at all.