We've all heard the expression, make hay while the sun shines but have you ever heard of 'Eat while the sun still shines.'? It's an actual health principle that I have never heard of but stumbled upon by accident. During the day, when the sun shines, our bodies work hard at digesting food and assimilating nutrients. This takes a huge amount of energy and tasks such as cleansing and reconstruction take a backseat. At night, when the sun goes down, the body turns it's focus towards the very important processes of cleaning and healing itself.
This is a natural cycle that we frequently resist. How often do we only sit down to eat our evening meal at 9pm or have a midnight feast when we get back from a night out? Paul Nison, the author of, 'The Daylight Diet' says that there is a direct connection between our eyes and our digestive system. "When sunlight hits the optic nerve, electrical impulses are transmitted, activating many processes of the body, including digestion. Nerve impulses send messages that tell the body to produce certain enzymes, gastric juices, and other processes of digestion."
This makes absolute and complete sense to me. Our bodies are these amazing organic machines that run on cycles and operate according to certain cues. We can vastly improve our health by listening to them. I would like to briefly share my experience of this with you because I'm so excited about the way it is making me feel. I've never felt better.
A Big Change for Me
I noticed that when I ate a big meal at night - even though it was healthy and MS diet legal, I didn't sleep well and woke up feeling bloated, lethargic and fuzzy headed. However, when I had my main meal much earlier on in the evening and just had some herbal tea or a raw juice later on, I had a much better sleep and woke up with a lovely clean, flat feeling in my tummy.
I thought I would give this routine a bit more of a deliberate try while I was trying to get bikini ready for my recent trip to Malta. I had my main meal of fish and veggies at around 4pm and didn't eat anything after that time. Not one morsel. Amazingly I didn't actually need anything else. I wasn't hungry. I did carry on drinking water and I did have some herbal tea with a little honey at around 9pm but that's all I felt I needed.
The results were amazing. I began to realise that I was getting better quality, deep sleep. I also had more energy, a much clearer mind and my residual MS symptoms were hardly noticeable. My right hand experiences stiffness every now and then and I often feel tingling in my legs. These symptoms were vastly improved and at times completely gone. An added bonus was that I was slowly losing a few inches so that I felt just that little bit more confident in my swimsuit! In short, I felt SO great!
Whilst in Malta, I let things slip a little and ate too late on most nights. Way after the sun had set. I paid for it! My quality of sleep was terrible and my tummy wasn't loving me at all. Luckily I could cleanse with BarleyLife and a berry smoothie the next morning. Still, I didn't have the same energy and clear headedness as before.
So, I realised that not only was this 'early eating principle' good for shaping up, it had had a whole host of far reaching health benefits. It is the next step in my MS diet. I feel that I have mastered which foods to avoid and which to embrace but this principle is something totally new which has the potential to take my health to a whole new level. I'm really excited about it!
I have since done some research on eating early and have found some amazing scientific evidence which explains just why eating while the sun shines is so beneficial to our health.
Benefits of Eating while the Sun Shines
Just to summarise, the major benefits that I felt whilst eating this way are:
- Improved digestion
- Deeper, better quality sleep
- Weight management
- Improved MS Symptoms
- More energy - especially when getting through the suicide hours of 5-7pm!
- A clean, happy feeling when I wake up
I surmised that because the body could fully digest food before sleep, it can focus on healing, cleaning and reconstruction in the evening and throughout the night. Instead of having a heavy load of food to digest, which actually takes a huge amount of energy and resources, it can focus on doing other important things that it can only do when I'm sleeping.
I also realised that my body needed a break from digestion! I have my last meal at 4pm and don't eat anything until 8am the next morning. This gives my body 16 hours between meals. This is a great opportunity for my body to catch up on all the important but not urgent things - the boring admin that needs to be done for things to be working like clock-work!
The Daylight Diet
'The Daylight Diet' is a great guide to eating this way. Paul Nison's gives some excellent advise, that is scientifically grounded. At times, I do feel that he is a tad rigid and prescriptive in his recommendations. He is quite keen on eating only raw food which is very healthy but I'm also aware that many vegetables such as broccoli, spinach and tomatoes are more nutritious when slightly cooked.
What I do love is his firm grasp of the principle of giving your body time to cleanse and heal itself. Our bodies naturally want to heal areas of inflammation and remove toxins. If we eat during this cleansing process, we are disrupting it and it will be far less effective.
Here are some basic principles he mentions:
- Don't eat anything after sunset and never eat when it is dark.
- It is most effective to eat your last meal of the day at 3pm (This is often hard to do and I find that 4-5pm is a more realistic time) This will give your body ample time to fully digest your food before you sleep.
- Eat breakfast in the third hour of daylight - around 8-9am. This gives your body around 16 hours of cleansing since your last meal.
- Give up the habit of snacking - your digestive system needs a rest between meals. Anytime you eat, the more the body has to work even of it's just a little snack.
Some Benefits of Eating this Way:
Improved Digestion & Gut Health
How to start
Eating at night is a difficult habit to break, especially if you're used to having dinner late and snacking well into the night. The best way to begin following this natural cycle is to start with a realistic new time for dinner and bringing it earlier and earlier. This may be 6pm for you or you may feel that you could stretch this to 5pm. This is very handy if you're a Mom and feed your kids at this time anyway. I have chosen to eat my meal at 4pm before the children eat. Otherwise I find that my meal is disrupted by requests for drinks and additional food items. It also gives me a wonderful energy boost for getting through that difficult evening routine of bath, homework and bedtime. I'm far less grouchy if I've had some good food!
Make sure your evening meal is pretty substantial. I like to have fish, loads of green and coloured veggies and perhaps some red or basmati rice.
If you're working then 4pm may be a great time for you to eat your evening meal. It will give you enough energy to get through the afternoon slump (no sugar needed) and you'll get home feeling great - not worn out and ravenous!
For the first week, you may be a little hungry at night, as your body adjusts to this new way of doing things. In this interim time you may need a raw juice or smoothie at night but don't eat anything solid that requires the full activation of the digestive system. Before long you won't need anything at all at night. You'll be surprised at how quickly your body is just so completely satisfied with it's early dinner and doesn't require anything else. A soothing cup of herbal tea is always nice though. I like camomile at this time.
Plan it in! Write down the date you are going to start and decide what you are going to eat. Then, use all your will power and self discipline to make it happen. After you've done one day, it gets a whole lot easier because you know you can do it!
Summing it Up
There is time for everything under the sun (Ecclesiastes). There is certainly a time to eat and a time to not to eat if we want to live a vibrant life. Paul Nison insists that regardless of the the food we eat, if we consistently eat when it's dark outside we will never thrive. He evens states that "it is far worse to overeat even high quality food, than to consume low quality foods in small amounts." It is the quantity eaten at the wrong time that does far more damage than the quality.
Some people are even are finding even bigger benefits by eating their last meal of the day at 2pm. This gives the body two extra hours of healing time. Wow, imagine the efficient work our bodies can do in 2 whole hours! I'm thinking of doing this a few days a week. Remember that this change doesn't just happen. It takes thought, planning and motivation. For me, staying well with MS is more than enough motivation!
Drop me a line if you want to chat a bit more about this amazing topic!
Sources: The Daylight Diet: Paul Nison