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Give it a rest (your gut, I mean). That’s my big piece of advice when it comes to nutrition. There’s clearly much more to say about the food we put in our bodies, but this is one thing that pretty much everyone can do to improve their health. *

So, what am I talking about? I’m talking about how WHEN you eat is so important to the efficient processing of food and therefore how your body works. It can also helps us with the changes that women go through in mid-life and go some way to balancing your hormones.

Many of us have been brought up on the idea of 3 meals a day, breakfast is the most important meal of the day and woe betide anyone who misses it, and over the last 40 years or so, the emphasis on snacking to keep your blood sugar at a consistent level. This could mean that you eat 5-6 times a day.

However, more and more research is showing that this may not be the most beneficial way for us to eat. In fact, what’s important is to allow our digestive system time to fully process our food and then rest, gaining the most nutritional value. Think about it. It’s not so long in evolutionary terms since we were hunter-gathers and went for long periods without food, eating when we could. Our 21st Century bodies have not changed that much.

So why is this time for the gut to rest so essential?

Your gut is full of several thousand different micro-organisms which have a myriad number of jobs to do to keep you functioning. You’ve probably heard of the gut-microbiome.  And every person’s combination and quantity of these bugs is different but there are many bugs which are common to us all and do a really important job.

We are still learning so much about how the gut works but there are a couple of bug groups which highlight the importance of looking at the timing of what we eat.

Firmicutes – these are sugar and fat loving bugs. They have an important role in processing these foods and are essential for us. However, they are greedy little critters. The more sugar and fat you give them, the more sugar and fat they want. Which sends signals to your brain to tell you to eat more sugar and fat…. I’m sure you can see where this is going.

But, if you “starve” them for several hours then this constant desire for fat and sugar diminishes. And the bugs can efficiently process those nutrients without being overloaded. Because if we have too much of these and cannot use them for energy then they get stored in the fat cells. Primarily the visceral fat cells. Hello middle-aged spread! There are clearly many other reasons for this thickening of your middle section, but this is one we can easily do something about.

Akkermansia are the second group of bugs. Often referred to as the “lean“ bug, it is found in high concentrations in slim people. Obviously, it’s a lot more complicated than lots of Akkermansia = you will stay slim, but they do have an essential role to play.

Their jobs include feeding off the mucus of the lining of the gut and strengthening the gut walls, ensuring much better absorption of nutrients. But the important thing is that they work most efficiently when the gut is empty. An absence of food means Akkermansia do a better job.

So, what can you do?

What is becoming increasingly apparent is that we need to allow our guts sufficient time to rest without having to process food. And one way to do this is some form of intermittent fasting. There are many versions of this, and you may have heard of –

5:2 diet – eating normally on 5 days of the week and fasting (about 600 Cals per day) on 2 days.

Alternate fasting – one day on, one day off

16:8 diet – eating your food in an 8-hour window and allowing 16 hours for your body to process it.

The list goes on. The important thing is to find something that works for you and that you can stick to.

Tips to help

1Find some form of “fasting” that suits your lifestyle. Experiment with different ones. I find the 16:8 easiest but others may appeal more to you. Take account of your personality type – do you love planning and can devise a menu for the week to account for fast days, or are you more like me and I just prefer to eat healthily within the 8 hour window?

2Have 2 or 3 proper sized meals per day (ones where you feel satisfied, not stuffed). Fill up on vegetables and good fats. No low-fat or low-sugar stuff in my house! You need fat (whatever any diet tells you) and you need sugar – in moderation. Have good quality, proper food, not highly processed food.

3Have at least 4 hours, preferably 6 hours between meals (no snacking). If you have had a fulfilling meal with the correct balance of carbs and protein you shouldn’t feel hungry. And if you want a snack, ask yourself why. Are you bored or really hungry?

4Don’t eat unless you’re hungry. But make sure you don’t go hungry. Just because convention says it’s breakfast time you don’t need to eat if you don’t want to. Personally, I’m not a breakfast person – brunch all the way for me.

*If you have a health condition please check with your medical practitioner before changing any aspect of your diet.