Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Reverse Diet Survival Guide


Months have passed, you’ve mustered up thousands of steps on the treadmill, uttered plenty of prayers before stepping on the bathroom scale for those weekly check-ins, and ran every calculation possible in the IIFYM calculator. You’ve upgraded your Instagram selfie game and reached the dieting goal you set prior to stepping on a bodybuilding stage or hitting up the beach for that family vacation.

Despite those washboard abs, peeled pecs and a DM packed with admirers, you’re ready to throw that kitchen scale in the back of the closet and all dietary inhibition to the wind.

The reality of the matter is, however; the work is far from over. Now that you’ve reached your body composition goal, it’s time use that momentum to begin gradually adding calories back into your diet, reduce your total aerobic activity and begin to bring your metabolic rate back to pre-diet levels while preventing unnecessary body fat accumulation, and of course, keep that body comp on point for those Insta-fans.

It’s time to reverse diet, and lucky for you, here’s a complete survival guide that will help you transition out of your diet and into the best possible circumstance for getting back to making improvements to your physique.

Remember Where a Reverse Diet Will Take You

Using the strategies in this article can be very beneficial to a successful reverse diet, but equally, as beneficial is remembering why exactly a reverse diet is so important for anyone coming off a dieting phase.

When dieting, the long-term restriction of calories and increase in aerobic activity, which creates the caloric deficit that prompts fat loss, also creates an adaption to the metabolic rate. 1 That metabolic adaption essentially means the body will expend less daily calories to serve as sort of a “starvation prevention” mechanism. This fact is the reason we need to periodically remove more food from a diet, or increase cardio to continue weight loss.

If a metabolism didn’t adapt during a diet, the IIFYM coaches would only need to make one change to a diet to create a caloric deficit for continual weight loss, and it would also mean a human would starve to death (literally) much quickly without the metabolisms’ survival mechanism.

Even in the most well-programmed diet, metabolic adaption is unavoidable but also a necessary mechanism for survival. Although it’s nothing to fear if the dieting phase is programmed appropriately, it is something that needs to be kept in mind during and after dieting phases. Once the diet is finished, it’s time to begin a reverse diet which will allow that metabolic rate to return back to pre-diet levels through increased food intake and reduced aerobic activity, while working to prevent unnecessary body fat in the process. Without going down a rabbit hole with too many details, this is the reason why a reverse diet, rather than suddenly returning to pre-diet food intake, is so important.


reverse diet increasing calories


Metabolic Adaption Example

If you were to, for example, start your diet with an intake of 3,000 calories per day, then 4 months later finish dieting with an intake of 1,850 calories. It would be unwise to suddenly jump right back up to that 3,000 calorie intake instead of reverse dieting. The reason for this is that during that diet, your metabolic rate will have declined and thus become unable to accommodate for such a sudden influx of calories.

Instead, it would be prudent to gradually reverse diet, maybe adding 100-300 calories per week (amount and frequency of additions would depend on a number of factors). This reverse diet would essentially allow your body to adapt to the increasing intake, rather than being “shocked” by a flood of unexpected calories.

Often times it can be a great idea to make the first 1-2 reverse diet macro increases a bit more substantial.

If you’ve ever had a friend dieting for several months either to compete in a bodybuilding show, or simply to look better, only to rapidly regain their lost weight after ending the diet, it’s due to the above situation and them very likely returning to a much higher food intake suddenly, rather than slowly reversing back to their pre-diet intake.

Following a proper reverse diet, whether you’re a serious physique athlete or just worked extremely hard to lose unwanted body fat and feel better in your day to day life, is going to be just as important as the diet itself in helping you achieve the physique you have been working so hard for over the long term and remaining as healthy as possible in the process.

Remember What Got you Here

Without the deadline of an upcoming show or photo shoot, it’s really easy to shirk all accountability and go completely off the deep end while transitioning into the growth season. Athletes begin swapping out the rippled muscles for ruffled chips, and 6-pack abs for 6-packs of muffins.

Once show day has passed, so too has any thought of all the tips and tricks used to make the diet a success in the first place. Many will resort to fitting in as much low volume, calorically dense favorites they can find into their macros, leaving them hungry and lethargic; or worse yet, forgo reverse dieting altogether and jump into a perma-bulk.

IIFYM blueprint

For the athletes looking to make their offseason as efficient as possible, or the non-competitor eager to keep their new body composition intact, coaches such as those on the IIFYM staff see the most successful clients come from successful reverse diets

As calorie intake is gradually increased through reverse dieting over the coming months post-diet, keeping nutrient dense, higher volume, unprocessed foods as the majority of intake can greatly reduce hunger levels, making it much easier to remain consistent with your reverse diet. It’s easy to resort to all the foods you’ve largely removed from your prep diet in place of more satiating foods, but keep in mind that those types of treats aren’t going anywhere, and will be just as accessible later to fit into your IIFYM diet.


breastfeeding macros


Rules of the Reverse

There are some general rules of thumb that can go a long way not just for curbing appetite when calories are lower, but can also help promote general health year round. Especially during your reverse diet, aim to consume the following each day:

  • 2-4 servings each of various fruits & vegetables
  • At least half your grains from whole grain sources
  • 14 grams of dietary fiber for every 1,000 calories consumed daily
  • 1-2 gallons of water
  • Whole foods instead shakes or powders (greater overall food volume)

When following IIFYM, the decision to limit high-calorie sweets and instead focus on nutrient dense foods until intake is higher and metabolism and hormone levels are back to baseline levels can be a challenge, but a challenge that brings an amazing payoff in return if accepted.

Big First, Small Later

The degree of macro adjustments from week to week in a reverse diet can be quite variable depending on the intensity and duration of the recent dieting phase, current food intake and body composition, the rate of weight gain from one week to another, and even gender and lifestyle. However, generally, an addition of food could be as small as 10-15 grams carbohydrate and 4-8 grams of fat (given the assumption that protein is already at a suitable level), or as large as 20-40 grams carbohydrate and 10-12 grams of fat.

I encourage clients to consider moving their high carb day from their usual day to the day of an upcoming event if it doesn’t already coincide.

Although each person’s ideal reverse diet will vary, it’s generally accepted that most additions are relatively small as a coach and athlete feel it out based on the above factors. That said, often times it can be a great idea to make the first 1-2 reverse diet macro additions a bit more substantial.

By doing this, a few changes will be unlikely to lead to extra fat gain but could make the early stages of the reverse diet much more mentally manageable. After dieting for months, and making every gram of macros count, having an extra 30-40 grams of carbs to work with during the first couple of weeks of the reverse diet can make the process much easier. After settling in to the more substantial, initial additions; it will be easier to adhere to more gradual macro additions in the coming weeks as body composition and metabolic rate developments are kept as top priorities.

Pregame Before Events

Before flashbacks surge back from your college days, this pregame is a little different than you may have delved in before. 9 times out of 10, people are most relieved to finish dieting since it means less stress attending events, dinners, and being more social without the fear of blowing their contest prep on fun food or drinks. Since I never encourage clients to avoid social occasions for the sake of their diet, there are some strategies you can follow before going out for the evening that can help make the events much less likely to bust up your reverse diet.

A simple high protein, low carb meal eaten before heading out for the evening can do wonders for curbing an appetite and reducing the chance of letting hunger and cravings take control when away from your normal foods and surrounded by only high-calorie options.

Part of our strategy is making sure that your satiation is curbed, let us build your Custom Macro Blueprint so you can sustainably lose body fat without starving!

Consider meals as simple as a salad with a lean protein source and low-calorie dressing can help ensure you’re meeting your protein target for the evening’s meal, but also already have something to help prevent your hunger from getting as amped as you will be reuniting with friends. Even low-carb protein pancakes or a quick protein smoothie are great options.

Regardless of your meal choice, a substantial amount of research in recent years suggests protein consumption prior to a big meal can significantly reduce total food intake, so focusing on protein-based meals can be a great decision during a reverse diet.[2,3,4]


high carb day


Floating High Carb Day

For most clients, I tend to structure diets around six “normal” days and one high carb day (HCD) where protein and fat are kept the same, but carbohydrate intake is increased one day of the week. Doing so helps with glycogen replenishment, provides a mental break from dieting and also tests how clients respond to various higher carb intakes which can help me determine changes in the offseason

For these HCDs, I have clients pick a day of the week that best fits their preference and schedule, and have their HCD that same day each week, something that helps with keeping weekly weigh-ins more consistent. That being said, there are exceptions to this recommendation, like when clients are reverse dieting and adherence is a top priority.

If you don’t want to go through the hassle of creating your own reverse dieting protocol, we will build your ideal Reverse Diet Blueprint geared towards your current variables!

Although most clients have their HCD on a Friday or Saturday since that is most commonly when social events and date nights are scheduled, plans change and special events pop up. When that happens, I encourage clients to consider moving their HCD from their usual day to the day of an upcoming event if it doesn’t already coincide for the first few months of a reverse diet.

The change in weekly check-in consistency is much less important than making sure a client is able to adhere to the current plan and continue reverse dieting successfully. By having a few months of a “floating high carb day, “ clients can still reap the benefits of the higher carb intake while keeping total weekly macros within the current plan and reduce the chance of overeating and unnecessary body fat. Then, as reverse dieting continues, it can become more and more easy to balance the new growth season diet with social events and simply eating without stressing over that extra chicken wing or drink with friends.

Create Homemade Favorites

After not having the ability to easily fit high-calorie foods like pastries into a prep diet, as calories are re-introduced post show- a serving of a favorite store-bought cinnamon roll worked into a diet responsibly using IIFYM, quickly turns to late night fridge fests. The mindset that some foods have to be restricted entirely during prep leads to an all or none mindset during the subsequent reverse diet.

Cooking at home is always best while tracking macros. Yet, before doing this, let us take out the guesswork by having one of our coaches build your Custom Macro Blueprint! This will ensure that all your hard work doesn’t go to waste.

Instead, with a little research and baking skills, most would be surprised at how easy it is to reverse diet while enjoying diet-friendly versions of favorite foods like pizzas, cakes, and even donuts. Making these foods at home can make them much easier to track for flexible dieters. This will help people enjoy the foods they most crave through IIFYM without having to completely forsake the long-term goal of improving body composition.

There are some general kitchen tips and swaps that can make homemade versions of sweets and comfort food much easier to fit into your macros.


reverse diet recipes


Fat Substitutes

These can be easily swapped out for oils and butter in baked goods recipes such as cakes, not to mention save a lot of macros during a reverse diet. A good rule of thumb would be one serving of the following ingredients for every serving of butter or oil in a homemade or box mix recipe.

  • Canned pumpkin
  • Low sugar applesauce
  • Mashed bananas
  • Ground flaxseed in place of whole eggs (mix equal parts water with flaxseed before adding into a recipe)

Crust Substitutions

  • Low carb wraps (Flat-Out Wraps or Joseph’s Lavash Wraps are great brands) for pizza crusts, homemade baked chips, burrito tortillas etc.
  • Cauliflower crusts (more preparation time needed than low carb wraps, but plenty of recipes available online if you want to sneak in extra servings of vegetables).

Low-Calorie Options for Common Ingredients

  • Low-fat/fat-free shredded cheese for burritos, pizzas, salads. (Or use half full-fat, half low-fat options for more similar flavor profile).
  • Fat-free cream cheese with added low-calorie sweeteners and flavoring rather than store-bought cream cheese to make cinnamon rolls, add to bagels, or top pancakes & French toast with.
  • Low fat, high protein Greek yogurts for the base of homemade “ice cream” that can be easily flavored with various yogurt flavors, fruits, extracts and protein powders/low-calorie versions of toppings.
  • Low sugar jams as a substitute for fillings in homemade pastries (or simply mashing up various fruits and mixing with low sugar syrups).

Two Steps Forward, No Steps Back

Contrary to the popular phrase, you don’t have to take steps back to take steps forward. You’ve spent months dieting to unveil a physique you’ve worked years on end to create. Putting in all that effort, only to sabotage yourself afterward by is one of the consequential disservices a person can do for their long-term progress. Instead, reflect on the work required to get where you are, and use that as fuel to push forward to even greater progress through an efficient reverse diet and upcoming growth season.

Instead, reflect on the work required to get where you are, and use that as fuel to push forward to even greater progress through an efficient reverse diet and upcoming growth season. It’s called a reverse diet, but there are no steps backward anymore- just progress to your ultimate you!

The post The Reverse Diet Survival Guide appeared first on IIFYM.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

10 Nutrition Myths That Just Won’t Die


Over the years, so much information surrounding nutrition has been debunked. Yet, it seems as though nutrition myths keep coming up in conversation and on the internet—they just won’t die! In this IIFYM article, we will break down some of the most common nutrition myths after another so you can see through all of the misinformation out there.

1. You shouldn’t eat late at night

One of the most common nutrition myths that we all have heard is don’t eat food late at night or it will all be stored as fat. Really? So, what they’re trying to tell you is that when you go to bed to rest, so does your metabolism? Not the case. Your metabolism doesn’t simply shut down at any point during the day. What this myth is truly saying is that you can’t be trusted with your food choices.

Late at night, many people sit in front of the television and snack. That’s a big no-no. Don’t eat for comfort, eat for fuel and function. If you want to have a nice protein packed snack at night, by all means, go for it. You’re not going to wake up and instantly be fat. It doesn’t work that way. What you eat is way more important than when you eat. If you’re curious how many calories you should be eating each day, check out the IIFYM calculator.

2. Fat is bad for you

How many times has the news gone back and forth with eggs? Eggs are bad for you! No wait, eggs are good for you! The back and forth is enough to make any dieter want to rip up their nutrition plan. IIFYM.com is a great place to find a nutritional plan if you are in the market for such and want to lose weight or put on muscle. The IIFYM diet alone is a great way to fit a healthy nutrition plan into your personal lifestyle rather than finding it to be a chore.

But demonizing fat has been one of the nutrition myths we’ve heard for quite a long time. Just because you eat fat does not mean you’re going to get fat. Fats are an important part of regulating hormones in your body to ensure proper functioning—especially when it comes to testosterone levels.

Nutrition myths surrounding fat such as saturated fat is bad for your heart has been debunked a while ago. As it stands right now, the only inferior fat that you want to stay away from is trans fat. Getting in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in your diet is essential and if you don’t seem to get enough through the whole food fats in your diet, consider picking up a supplement to boost your intake.


fat loss diet


3. Fad diets can help me lose weight

It’s true, fad diets may help you lose weight. But, I’m willing to bet the diet isn’t something you’re able to maintain long-term and keep the weight off. Most fad diets are nutrition myths at their finest. Cut out all sugar! Cut out all fats! Why not just eat a sensible well-balanced diet and exercise a little? Is it really that difficult? Most people want a quick fix and an easy way out. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have the obesity epidemic we do here in the United States today. IIFYM is a great nutritional plan if you are looking for one. It allows you to eat the foods you love, yet still stay caloric balanced so you can reach whatever your goal weight is.

IIFYM blueprint

You can’t out-train a poor diet let alone one that has you going from one extreme to the other. It’s a shame this isn’t on our list of nutrition myths as I’m sure we all wouldn’t mind the extra time in the gym. And the good news is that you don’t need to when you find a plan that fits into your life. IIFYM.com has everything from a 90-day weight loss challenge, to custom workouts, and even blueprints and recipes that you can utilize. If you haven’t checked out the IIFYM.com programs, I highly recommend you take a few minutes to see how they can take your health and fitness to the next level.

4. Avoid fast food restaurants like the plague

This topic is one of the nutrition myths that I myself have been trying to clear up for years. When I worked for a company that had me traveling every week, I didn’t have time to sit down at a fancy restaurant and get a nice meal. I literally had to shove food in my mouth and get to my next meeting. Fast food restaurants can easily fit into any diet you’re utilizing, especially IIFYM. Chick-Fil-A is a great example of how you can order just about anything there and have it customized to fit your needs.

You can order a salad with grilled chicken, use a low-calorie dressing, and then you can order another grilled chicken breast to give the protein content a boost. Or, you can grab yourself one or two grilled chicken breasts by themselves and get a fruit cup to go along with it. Just because fast food restaurants have been vilified for years does not mean that the times have not changed to where you can find a healthy meal on the go.


water intake myth


5. Drink eight glasses of water each day for health benefits

I’m not sure where some of these nutrition myths such as this example came from, but how do you put out a guideline for the amount of water you need? It’s completely personal from person to person based on their needs. While I think what they are trying to promote is the use of water over sugary beverages, throwing a number on how much you need each day as though it’s some magical number is wrong.

There isn’t a magical diet either, but let us dial in the best approach to fit your lifestyle with a Custom Macro Blueprint built by one of our coaches!

Someone who is active and sweats a lot is going to need a lot more water than someone who sits all day long. Without water, the active individual risks dehydration which can lead to health issues or worse. We need to think about drinking throughout the day and especially when we are thirsty.

6. Coffee is bad for your health and promotes dehydration

Another common nutrition myths that you can include in the above section is coffee and tea. At IIFYM.com, we love our coffee. And for the longest time, we were led to believe that coffee and tea dehydrated us because of the caffeine content in the beverage.

This was later debunked and these beverages can now to be included in your overall water intake for the day. In fact, if you want some extra antioxidants in your diet, coffee is a great way to do it. So, cheers to your favorite morning cup of Joe!

7. To lose weight you need to eat 5-7 small meals throughout the day

No offense, but none of us have time to sit down and eat that many meals each day if you’re out there hustling trying to grow your business or being productive at your job. Thank goodness, nutrition myths such as this were debunked.

The thinking behind this nutrition myth was that by eating more frequently, you will be able to keep your metabolism revving all day long. The funny aspect about this myth is that there are zero studies that have ever stated that.

Different macronutrients go through distinct metabolic pathways that we simply can’t throw calories into one big bucket and call each calorie the same.

So, where did it come from? Who knows? I will say this, though, eating more frequently does help with satiation, but it has no bearing on helping you lose weight. You can eat 2-3 meals each day or 5-7 and still burn the same number of calories.

If you’re looking to burn calories, the coaches at IIFYM.com can take your slow or fast metabolism and help you choose foods that provide you with both the micro and macronutrients your body needs to function optimally. IIFYM is a great lifestyle diet that can be plugged into anyone’s life no matter how busy you are.


too much protein


8. Eating too much protein is harmful to your kidneys

I love my protein. IIFYM followers love their protein. IIFYM.com staff loves their protein. You too should love your protein—and not have to worry about nutrition myths that should have died years ago. I live in Pennsylvania, and here, we love our meat and potatoes. And in all honesty, I could probably eat meat at every meal. In the past, many were told that if they ate a diet that was high in protein, that it would raise their risk of doing harm to their kidneys and potentially have kidney failure. While the harmful effects of large amounts of protein are indeed dangerous to those who already have kidney disease, healthy individuals will have no issues upping their protein intake.

While adding more protein in your diet can provide benefits, let us build your Custom Macro Blueprint tailoring your approach with a proper protein intake

And in all honesty, I could probably eat meat at every meal. In the past, many were told that if they ate a diet that was high in protein, that it would raise their risk of harming their kidneys and potentially have kidney failure. While the harmful effects of large amounts of protein are indeed dangerous to those who already have kidney disease, healthy individuals will have no issues upping their protein intake.

The case for increasing your protein intake

With all of that being said, what are some reasons why you should increase your protein intake? For starters, it can help promote muscle growth. Another great reason to up this macronutrient is because it helps you feel fuller throughout the day and satiated rather than feeling like your stomach is digesting itself due to lack of substance. Protein is a highly beneficial micronutrition. Don’t believe the misconceptions surrounding nutrition myths like this. Keep protein in your diet and have it in every one of your meals regardless if you’re following an IIFYM nutrition plan or not.

Protein is a particularly beneficial micronutrition. Don’t believe the misconceptions surrounding nutrition myths such as this. Keep protein in your diet and have it in every one of your meals regardless if you’re following an IIFYM nutrition plan or not.

9. A calorie is a calorie no matter where it comes from

One of the long-running nutrition myths has been that a calorie is a calorie and it has no bearing on where it’s coming from. Well, I hate to break it to you but not all calories are created equal. Various foods break down and are metabolized differently than others. Foods that have the ability to increase your metabolism are clearly preferred over sustenance that has a slight impact on your metabolism.

What they don’t tell you is that generally what’s happening is that they are swapping out the fat in the product and substituting sugar for it.

Also, food sources coming from protein or even fats can help you feel fuller longer. You will feel satiated when compared to eating food high in sugar that can actually release hormones in your brain making you want to eat even more sugar (not a great phenomenon). It’s because different macronutrients go through different metabolic pathways that we simply can’t throw calories into one big bucket and call each calorie the same.

You will feel satiated when compared to eating food high in sugar that can actually release hormones in your brain making you want to eat even more sugar (not a great phenomenon). It’s because different macronutrients go through different metabolic pathways that we simply can’t throw calories into one big bucket and call each calorie the same.



low fat options


10. Look for low-fat foods because they are healthy options

Food that has natural fat in them should always be chosen over their low-fat counterparts at the grocery store. Nutrition myths that we still hear to this day that just won’t die seem to revolve around fat. A common myth is that low-fat foods are healthier options because they contain less fat. What they don’t tell you is that generally what’s happening is that they are swapping out the fat in the product and substituting sugar for it.

That’s a horrible trade-off. The question might come up as to why a brand would decide to remove fat and add sugar. The simple answer is that when you remove the fat from a product, the taste can be terrible.

At the end of the day, it’s about how you feel from a mental and physical standpoint, give yourself a diet that promotes longevity. Have one of our coaches build your Custom Macro Blueprint!

Therefore, they add excess sugar to the product to compensate. Without you knowing it, you’re trading fat for an unhealthy ingredient that doesn’t belong in your diet. Skip the low-fat version of anything you are looking to purchase.

The question might come up as to why a brand would decide to remove fat and add sugar. The simple answer is that when you remove the fat from a product, the taste is terrible. Therefore, they add excess sugar to the product to compensate. Without you knowing it, you’re trading fat for an unhealthy ingredient that does not belong in your diet. Skip the low-fat version of anything you are looking to purchase unless needed.

11. All Oatmeal is good for you (Bonus nutrition myth)

I simply couldn’t leave one of the newer nutrition myths off the list so I needed to make sure it was included. Nutritionists, dieticians, trainers, doctors, and gurus alike have all said we should be including oatmeal in our diet. So how the heck can adding oatmeal to our diet be included in the list of nutrition myths? It’s quite simple, what you’re buying the box is full of sugar. At IIFYM.com we want to spread knowledge and ensure you know the truth behind your food choices.

If you are making oatmeal from scratch, you’re getting one heck of a healthy addition to your meal. However, if you are opening a packet of “oatmeal” you truly aren’t getting the health benefits they proclaim. The majority of the oatmeal found in packets where you add water and throw them in the microwave are full of sugar. Think of the packets you see flavored as Apples and Cinnamon or Strawberries and Cream. Not only that, but many of them have added trans fat in them to improve the taste.

What to do instead

A better option is to make your own oatmeal and add items such as nuts and maybe a packet of Stevia to sweeten it up to your liking. Just because the box is telling you the contents are healthy does not necessarily mean that they are. Don’t be fooled by nutrition myths similar to this. Without looking at the nutrition label and ingredients, you would think the prepackaged oatmeal was a healthy option when in reality it truly isn’t.

We hope you enjoyed this IIFYM article showcasing nutritional myths we have all heard time and time again. If you have any questions about any of the nutrition myths found in this article, our qualified staff at IIFYM.com can help you find the right nutrition plan to suit your needs and goals.

The post 10 Nutrition Myths That Just Won’t Die appeared first on IIFYM.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Why Your Circadian Rhythm Issues are Causing Your Diet to Suffer

What is Your “Circadian Rhythm”?

Humans (and all organisms) have an organization to physiological processes that is primarily anchored around two environmental contrasts: the 24-hour cycle of light and darkness. The cycle of light and darkness corresponds to behavioral changes: the light period is also the waking, active, and food foraging phase. The dark period is also the sleeping, inactive, and fasting phase. This physiological and behavioral architecture is known as circadian rhythm, from the Latin ‘circa’ (around), and ‘dies’ (day).

The negative effects of sleep curtailment on appetite, hunger, metabolism, and food intake are well documented in the literature on sleep. Even around 5.5hrs sleep per night – what some might consider a good sleep – stimulates the craving for high-carbohydrate, high-calorie foods, disinhibits food control and promotes overeating (Morselli et al., 2010; Chin-Chance, Polansky & Schoeller, 2000; Triay, 2014, Markwald et al., 2013). If you don’t have a macro intake geared towards your variables to help subside cravings, refer to the IIFYM calculator.

The ‘Body Clock’

Colloquially known as your ‘body clock’, the most potent synchronizer (known as “zeitgebers”, or “time-givers”) of circadian rhythm is light – information communicated through your eyes to the brain which indicates whether it is night or day, and the physiological fluctuations that accompany either period.

The brain then syncs up with the rest of the body’s systems to allow us to anticipate changes in the environment, e.g. sleep to wake, and fasting to feeding. In fact, while light entrains the central circadian timer in the brain, feeding entrains the circadian timers in the digestive system (Oike, Oishi & Kobori, 2014). Thus, synchronization of the circadian system is vital to metabolic processes from blood sugar management, to carbohydrate and fat metabolism (Ibid.).

You’ve likely experienced circadian dysregulation before, aka jet lag. The digestive difficulties on the first day or two after a long-haul flight are a result of eating in a new time zone, when it could be 4 am in your body’s internal clocks. It’s also why it takes a couple of days to get over jet-lag – you need exposure to daylight in your new time zone, coupled with new food timing patterns, to reset the system.


office light


How Light Regulates Circadian Rhythm

In industrialized societies, we spend around 88% of the time in enclosed buildings and are exposed to 4 times less natural light during the day (Klepeis et al., 2001; Wright et al., 2013). During the day, natural light can be anywhere from 2,000 to 100,000lux; average office lighting can often be less than 500lux, which is too low for circadian entrainment and disturbs circadian rhythms (Bonmati-Carrion et al., 2014).

Find out how to get in a rhythm with your diet by having one of our coaches build your Custom Macro Blueprint

In the evenings, 75% of the population are exposed to artificial light at night from shortwave blue light, the kind emitted by natural sunlight…and TV’s, laptops, and smartphones. This suppresses melatonin, the hormone which is released during the biological night and signals the onset of sleep (Ibid.). When you add all this together, people now experience an intensity of light between sunset and bedtime that is over twice their level of natural daytime light exposure (Wright et al., 2013).

Why might this be a problem?

The circadian “inputs” – light/dark and feeding/fasting – are integral to circadian regulation, and sending unusual inputs, such as blue light exposure at night, late night eating or erratic meal patterns, alters the “outputs” (Miguez, Gómez-Abellán & Garaulet, 2016). Remember the example of jetlag?

Jet lag happens when you suddenly alter the inputs; the change in light and food timing are disconnected from your current environment. Your body doesn’t know what to do for a few days while it adjusts.

Jetlag and shift-work are examples of extreme circadian desynchronization. We’ve known for some time that shift work is a primary risk factor for metabolic disease (Depner, Stothard & Wright, 2014). However, only now is the evidence beginning to accumulate in relation to “social jetlag”, and the potential adverse effects of less extreme circadian perturbations on metabolic health.


social jetlag


“Social Jetlag” and Circadian Dysregulation

The average sleep duration of a working adult in the 1960’s was over 8hrs: 44% of working adults now sleep an average of 6.5hrs per night, with 20-30% sleeping less than 6hrs (Briançon-Marjollet et al., 2015). Most people then try to compensate on the weekends.

The difference between how long you would sleep on a weekend with no forced wake time, and your sleep duration during the week, is called social jetlag. The difference between circadian timing and social timing (i.e. extended wakefulness in the biological night aka partying/working late/watching infomercials at 2 am), dysregulates circadian rhythms.

IIFYM blueprint

The degree of artificial light exposure in the evening, both duration (>3hrs) and intensity (>500lux) has also been associated with metabolic dysfunction – increased BMI, obesity and abnormal lipid profiles (Obayashi et al., 2013; Reid et al., 2014).

So that’s the associative studies. The question is how could artificial light and extended evenings be having such disruptive effects on circadian function and metabolic health?

Influence of Light on Metabolism

A crucial aspect to circadian rhythmicity is that the waking/day phase is inherently tied to meal timing, nutrient intake and metabolic function. Extended illumination and artificial light disrupt these normally dichotomous alternate periods of sleep/activity, feed/fast, and energy metabolism/storage (Maury, Ramsay & Bass, 2010).

Several studies in mice exposed to light and access to food during their biological night have shown the mice consuming food under these light conditions gained significantly more fat than mice eating the same overall daily calories, but restricted eating to their waking/active phase (Fonken et al., 2013; Fonken et al., 2010; Arble et al., 2009).

When our behavioral cycles are misaligned with circadian cycles, leptin levels decrease, dysregulating appetite and control of energy balance (Scheer et al., 2009).

In humans, extended illumination provides greater opportunity to eat, and late night eating has been associated with increased BMI independent of sleep duration and timing (Baron et al., 2013). Food utilization and energy expenditure are under circadian control, and late night eating alters the feed/fast period and causes the timing of systems, like the digestive system, to become offset (Oike, Oishi & Kobori, 2014). Working with programs and coaches like those available through IIFYM can help to structure your meal planning and timing, avoiding these common diet pitfalls.


circadian dysregulation


How Light May Affect Our Ability to Change Our Body Composition

Shortwave blue light emitted by electronic devices suppresses melatonin levels, and women with the lowest melatonin levels at baseline were more likely to develop T2DM when followed up 12-years later in the Nurse’s Health Study (McMullan et al., 2013).

Again, the association is not causation, and there is a lack of controlled human intervention trials looking at the influence of light exposure. To date, there are only a few controlled trials in humans looking at the effects of light exposure. In one trial, 3 hrs of blue light exposure increased markers of insulin resistance, suggesting that chronic shortwave light exposure may impact metabolic function and glucose regulation (Cheung et al., 2016).

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In another, morning light treatment resulted in greater reductions in body fat percentage and decreased appetite in overweight women (Danilenko, Mustafina & Pechenkina, 2013). It is possible that these effects may be through the physiological arousal promoting effects of light, and the ability of blue light exposure in the morning to decrease appetite through reducing hunger hormone signaling (Figueiro, Plitnick & Rea, 2012).

I think it is important to emphasize that energy balance is the fundamental determinant of success on a weight-loss program. A calorie deficit won’t be wiped out by watching TV, and the nutrition plans at IIFYM can help set you up with the right controlled calorie intake for your needs. Why the circadian aspect is important is because if your sleep and circadian patterns are erratic, you’re making hard work of your fat loss goals.

Timing of Food and Circadian Regulation of Hunger/Appetite

The circadian system is entrained to fixed feeding patterns. Ghrelin, which stimulates hunger from the gut, is entrained in response to meal timing and provides signaling between the peripheral circadian clocks (entrained by feeding) and the central clock (entrained by light) (Westerterp-Plantenga, 2016).

Food motivation and reward systems are synchronized to the central circadian clock, allowing an organism to anticipate food foraging and intake (McGinnis & Young, 2016). When our behavioral cycles are misaligned with circadian cycles, leptin levels decrease, dysregulating appetite and control of energy balance (Scheer et al., 2009).

Regular meal timing and frequency are thus essential to the integrity of the circadian system. In fact, irregular meal frequency decreases diet-induced thermogenesis compared with a regular meal frequency at the same level of calorie intake (Farshchi, Taylor & McDonald, 2004). Don’t jump the gun here, this isn’t a return to “6 meals a day” fitness industry broscience – what this is demonstrating is that erratic eating patterns are disruptive to circadian rhythmicity and metabolism (Mattson et al., 2014).


meal timing


How These Consumption Patterns Affect Our Circadian Rhythm

Hunger patterns also display circadian rhythmicity, with hunger signaling lowest in the morning and highest in the evening (Scheer, Morris & Shea., 2013). In fact, human circadian rhythms appear to be hardwired to consume more food in the latter part of the day. Hunger peaks in the evening, correlating with peak ghrelin concentrations (Ibid.), while leptin concentrations are highest during the biological night and into the early half of the day, suppressing appetite (Simon et al., 1998).

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In sleep curtailment to 5.5hrs, leptin decreases by 18% – comparable to the decrease when healthy subjects are underfed by 900 calories per day – and ghrelin increases by 28%, stimulating food seeking behaviors (Chin-Chance, Polansky & Schoeller 2000; Morselli et al. 2010).

Disruption of leptin patterns has been shown to contribute to a 22% increase in calorie intake the following day (Morselli et al., 2010). Light exposure may, however, attenuate the effects of disrupted circadian hunger/appetite regulation. In subjects restricted to 5hrs sleep, morning shortwave blue light exposure modulated the deleterious effects of sleep restriction on appetite and hunger; leptin increased while ghrelin decreased (Figueiro, Plitnick & Rea, 2012).

A Circadian Call to Reconsider Nutrient Timing?

We’ve seen earlier how late eating is associated with higher BMI, but early eating is as much an issue. Glucose tolerance is impaired when melatonin is elevated and advancing wake time by 2hrs results in reduced insulin sensitivity during very early morning wakefulness (Eckel et al., 2015). The key point to note, if work/kids/life has you up at 5 am, is that while you may be awake, it remains your biological night – and melatonin will be elevated (Ibid.).

And the circadian rhythmicity of cortisol may explain why the Lucky Charms and Pop Tarts in your macros are probably best avoided at breakfast. Experimental evidence in humans shows that cortisol augments insulin responses to glucose, promoting rapid carbohydrate metabolism (Vila et al., 2010).

Low-carb dieting decreases sleep quality, while evening carb intake can increase brain concentrations of the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin (Afaghi et al., 2008; Halson, 2014).

A study comparing a higher-carb, low-fat breakfast [55% carbs] against a lower carb, higher fat [43% carbs] (which controlled for protein intake at 18%), found a quicker return of hunger and appetite in the higher carb breakfast; the lower carb/higher fat breakfast had a lower insulin response, and less appetite 4 hours after the breakfast (Chandler-Laney et al., 2014).

While this may not reflect a circadian influence per se, it reflects an approach to nutrition which syncs with natural circadian hormonal oscillations.These hormonal oscillations may explain why one study found greater weight loss during an energy-restricted diet with a majority of carbohydrates eaten in the evening meal (Sofer et al., 2011).

This eating pattern attenuated the drop in leptin that accompanies restrictive dieting but more importantly increased adiponectin during the day (Ibid.). Adiponectin displays circadian rhythmicity and acts as an insulin sensitizer (Fasshauer et al., 2004). It is low in the obese and higher in lean/normal weight individuals.


circadian eating


Why Carbs May Increase Sleep Quality

Yet, the overweight group consuming the majority of their carbs in the evening had significant increases in their daytime adiponectin levels, which wasn’t observed in the control group (Sofer et al., 2011). Up to 60% of glucose from a carb-rich meal is disposed of in skeletal muscle, and muscle glycogen synthesis peaks at the end of the active phase (McGinnis & Young, 2015).

There is another argument for strategically portioning carbs to the evening meal: increased sleep quality. Low-carb dieting decreases sleep quality, while evening carb intake can increase brain concentrations of the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin (Afaghi et al., 2008; Halson, 2014).

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What is emerging, however, from both the animal data and nascent human data is the benefits of time-restricted feeding (21,25,29). Restricting feeding time in mice to their biological day/active phase protects against metabolic dysregulation from an obesity-inducing high-fat diet (21).

In humans, regularizing erratic eating patterns and shortening the habitual feeding period from 14hrs to 10-11hrs decreased energy intake, body mass, and interestingly increased sleep quality (Gill & Panda, 2015).

Forget the hoopla about intermittent fasting, this isn’t about that. From a circadian chronobiology perspective, time-restricted feeding provides a clear feeding/fasting cycle that is consistent with the waking/sleeping and light/dark phases, syncing peripheral circadian metabolic functions with our central, light-driven circadian clock (Potter et al., 2016).

Practical Recommendations

So, what can you so you preserve circadian rhythmicity? Manage your light environment and time-restrict your feeding.

In the evening, you want to prevent melatonin from the suppressing effects of short-wave blue light emitted from electronic devices. Exposure to blue light suppresses melatonin onset by 90mins. You have a couple of options here:

a) Purchase blue-light blocking glasses, which prevent melatonin suppression (van der Lely et al., 2015).
b) Turn all blue-light emitting devices – TV, smartphones, laptop – off 90mins before bed.
c) Download the software f.lux for your laptop, which naturally dims the blue light from your screen in accordance with the sunset in your timezone.
d) Blackout your bedroom. Make it a tech-free environment.
e) A mix of the above.

You’ll recall that light in the morning is a good thing, and can even attenuate the effects of the inevitable nights where we don’t get enough sleep. During the daytime is when you want that short wave, high-intensity light. The first option is to make sure you get 30mins outdoors in the morning or at some stage during the day.

However, not every climate is suited to this, so the fall back is to use blue light therapy. The best is probably the Philips ‘GoLite Blu’, which emits 4 different blue light intensities. This is equivalent to a clear summer’s daytime light level. Use it for anything between 15 mins up to 1 hour per day in the morning.


circadian regulation


Concluding the Best Methods For Circadian Regulation

Along with avoiding blue light in the evening, morning light exposure will help reset your circadian rhythm, especially if you work in an office. A note on caffeine: caffeine can cause a phase-delay in your circadian rhythm. Work on only consuming it during the morning, limiting it in the evening.

The last element is to be consistent with your meal timing and time-restrict your feeding. This doesn’t have to be extreme fasting – even a set 10 or 11-hour window will suffice. The aim is to regularize your meal timing and align it to your biologically active/waking period. If you have a history of erratic eating, it helps to have guidance. Our coaches at IIFYM can help you establish regular eating patterns to help you avoid circadian dysregulation.

For all the dieting products that IIFYM offers, view their programs that can help you see great body composition results!

And the whole intermittent fasting thing? Do it if you want. Breakfast is neither essential or non-essential. As for macros? From a circadian perspective, there is support for emphasizing protein and fat with lower overall carbs in the early part of the day, and for consuming a large meal in the evening. However, this is inconsistent and there is also support for front-loading calories in those who are overweight/obese. Again, in metabolically healthy individuals this may be irrelevant.

The take home point here is that there is flexibility to set up a diet plan for success. At IIFYM, your specific variables will be used to provide you with a proper caloric intake and structure your macros to suit your personal preferences. But never eat during your biological night, whether that involves very early mornings – or late evenings – there should be no such thing as IIFYM at 2 am.


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