How a Disturbed Meal Cycle Can Affect Your Bowel System and Digestion

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healthy meal cycle

Dr. Sharad Malhotra

New Delhi, December 30-The fundamental requirement for a healthy, and comfortable life of general well being, is a good and nutritious diet. The normal meal cycle or food cycle is culturally distinct and signifies different meanings for different populations. In general, an average meal cycle would possibly constitute a pattern of breakfast, lunch and dinner and with possibly two small snacks in between. This would differ in geographical and ethnic populations who would possibly have different time zones, work and lifestyles changing the  times of meal consumption and what is referred to as Eating Occasions or Eating events

Changes in the Meal Pattern or Disturbed Meal Cycle 

In today’s scenario of rapid urbanization and pattern of unhealthy food consumption, the normal timings of meals are getting affected. If you are not eating say breakfast in morning or eating if while driving to work, then it is not a good idea. A normal day’s eating is either not happening at the warranted time or is getting delayed by hours leading to poor digestion and pre–disposition towards metabolic disturbances and illnesses. In our practice, we come across patients who either are not eating ,say breakfast in time or sometimes eating at hours possibly overlapping with other meal times leading to clustering of calorie intakes and usage of calorie dense and poor quality food which provides more of satisfaction than nutrition and health.

Possible Causes of Disturbed Meal Cycles 

Any individual who routinely does not eat in time is pre-disposed to a disturbed meal cycle. This includes shift workers who have varying times of sleeping and waking, students during examination time, people working in healthcare facilities like doctors, nurses and other paramedical staff or anyone who indulges in routine disturbance in meal timings is prone to digestion related abnormalities. Also  people who suffer from various illnesses which affect their sleep wake cycle due to illness, pain, or drugs also suffer from same problems.

Ironically with advancement of technology and 24x 7 availability of food, we have started eating more inappropriately. We tend to watch movies or consume social media till late in night, sleep late and get up late, rush to office/ work, meet unreasonable deadlines and  either skip breakfast or eat in our cars or eat junk food at wrong times adding to burden on our digestive systems.

Effect on Digestion or Bowel System

Rise in non communicable diseases can be partially attributed to poor eating quality and wrong food timings.  Our bodies have a certain rhythm called circadian rhythm where all body functions have their own periodicity depending on time and cativity of the day. Ancient wisdom, whether eastern or western world  always talked about– Eat breakfast like a king, Lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar and it holds true for good digestive principles. A large meal at the start of the day jump starts us for a busy day ahead. Eating small meals in time allows good digestion, better gastro-intestinal motility and usage of energy efficiently by liver and less stress on digestive organs.

Research suggests increased incidence of obesity, hormonal disturbances, fatty liver and hypertension with obvious problems in glucose control for people eating at odd and wrong times. Due to frequent snacking, inappropriate and calorie rich foods, pediatric population especially is affected in this regard as childhood obesity, fatty liver, hypertension and hormonal abnormalities are rising in urban vis a vis rural populations.

Ensure a Healthy Meal Cycle

As the saying goes, ‘better late than never’, you still have time on your hand to rectify the dietary mistakes all these years by simply eating in time , consistently and have a balanced diet. Meals especially balanced in their protein , fat and carbohydrate content are ideal for a good health. The food intake should be distributed evenly and small meals are good for metabolism . Nutrition experts may differ in the extent of food portions but are unanimous about small meals , usage of fruits and vegetables in abundance and gradation of energy intake from morning to evening. Try eating approximately at the same time so that it coincides with our circadian rhythm and leads to better nutrition optimization.

Restore Your Normal Meal Cycle With These Simple Steps:

Well , each day is a new day and starting the day is very important. Rise in time , walk around for 20-30 minutes and have a healthy and nutritious breakfast. Although portions will differ in the same area, ethnicity and even states in our country, it is prudent to take a protein rich meal in morning and possibly the heaviest meal of the day.

A small fruit or snack at say around 11 am and lunch at 2 pm, followed by another snack at 5 pm and dinner at 8 pm is optimal for most of the people. Frequency and patterning of meals is essential to determine good energy intake and correct nutritional availability. Avoid too fat rich fried food stuff in evening and go easy on your dinner if possible. A late night supper is a good idea if feeling hungry but avoid too many sweets and sugary items.

Managing Work and Meal Cycle

It is at times important to understand that your body rhythm is not dependent on the job profile but on how you take care of it. Eating timely is the least you can do for your own self. Gradation of meals in time and quantity is the best way to guard yourself from meal related cycle disturbances. Time of meal eating is as important as quantity and quality of meals. A rule of thumb is breakfast between 0700 to 1000 hrs, lunch 1200 to 1400 hours and dinner between 1900 to 2100 hours with two small snacks in between. For a normal individual good protein intake and cutting down on fat and carbohydrate intake as culturally appropriate will help managing your waistline and prevent many lifestyle illnesses.

So dear friends, eat well, eat timely and eat healthy for a balanced and healthy life balanced in their protein, fat and carbohydrate content are ideal for a good health. The food intake should be distributed evely and small meals are good for metabolism . Nutrition experts may differ in the extent of food portions but are unanimous about small meals, usage of fruits and vegetables in abundance and gradation of energy intake from morning to evening. Try eating approximately at the same time so that it coincides with our circadian rhythm and leads to better nutrition optimization.

(The writer is Senior Consultant and HOD, Department of Gastro-enterology, Aakash Healthcare Super Speciality Hospital, Dwarka)

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