Late-Night Eating: The Modern Circadian Mismatch

Late-Night Eating: The Modern Circadian Mismatch

Renowned evolutionary biologist Theodosius Dobzhansky said “nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”[1] Throughout our evolution, we have lived in daily cycles of light and dark. These cycles have led to the development of natural circadian rhythms that impact many aspects of our health and vitality.

Circadian rhythms are triggered by the bright light stimulus in the morning and darkness in the evening. The hypothalamus area of the brain – specifically the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) – is the master regulator, synchronising the body’s circadian clock based on information it receives from photoreceptors in the eyes in response to light [2]. The impacts of circadian rhythm are wide-reaching:

Read More

7 Effects of Ketogenic Diet on “Weekend Warrior” Athletes

7 Effects of Ketogenic Diet on “Weekend Warrior” Athletes

It seems like 2017 is the year of the ketogenic diet. A new study examined the impacts of a 6-week ketogenic diet on body composition, health and fitness markers in healthy middle-aged men. So, if you’re active and want to take a glimpse into the effects of adopting a keto diet may have on your health and performance, here is your chance to take a sneak peek. Let’s review

Forty-two men in their late 30s were recruited for this 6-week study. They were fed a non-calorically restricted ketogenic diet – comprised of 70% fat, 20% protein and 10% carbs - and assessed for ketosis using urinary testing.

Read More

Top-6 Calorie Dense Foods (And How to Avoid Them)

Top-6 Calorie Dense Foods (And How to Avoid Them)

There is a growing debate in the nutrition community about the cause of obesity; too much sugar or too much fat? While the debate rages online, the research experts are actually in agreement… it’s both! Consuming an excess of calories leads to weight gain, while a caloric deficit leads to weight loss. (There is also the “endocrine theory” for weight loss, but I’ll address that in future post). It sounds straight-forward in theory, however in practice it can be tremendously challenging to implement.

Read More

Western Diet, Processed Foods & Hyper-Palatability

1_Western Diet.png

One of the most common refrains I hear from clients is, “I’m always hungry.” We’re in the midst of an obesity epidemic, where caloric surplus is the norm, yet we’re still chronically hungry and looking for energy throughout the day. Experts trying to solve the crisis seem to have created a new battleground as “diet wars” now rage online and in academia over which diet and macronutrient ratio is best to combat weight gain.

From an evolutionary perspective, regardless of whether you consumed the ancestral high-carb diet of the Kitavans or the very low-carb, high fat Inuit diet of the north, both cultures were virtually free of diabetes and metabolic diseases until the introduction of the Western diet.

The Problem with the Western Diet

The Western diet is chock-full of processed convenience foods that are high in added sugar, harmful trans fats, food additives, and artificial sweeteners, and are deficient in fiber and key micronutrients.1 While these all contribute to excess caloric intake and potentially weight gain, their impact on your brain and your cravings is just as detrimental.

Obesity researcher Dr. Stephan Guyenet has delved deeply into the notion of food “hyper-palatability”—how processed convenience foods are engineered to elicit major responses by our brains, kicking up dopamine levels and driving “food reward” that leads to you craving more and more of these tasty snacks.

Here are some of Dr. Guyenet’s insights on hyper-palatability of foods and weight gain:

  • Approximately 70% of the average American diet is from processed foods.2 In 1980, there were approximately 15,000 convenience foods available in supermarkets, while today that has exploded to over 43,000. Dr. Guyanet believes the greater the variety of foods, the more calories you’re likely to consume.
  • Over the last twenty years, our total daily caloric has increased by 425kcal per day and “snacking” accounts for 77% of this total increase.3 Dr. Guyanet believes this is sufficient, on its own, to explain the rise in weight gain over the past two decades.
  • The greater the “palatability” of the food, the more calories typically people will consume in one sitting.4 Sounds obvious, but in real-terms this means the tastier your treat or snack (from sugar or additives) the more you’ll consume.

Hyper-Palatable Foods and Your Brain

The brain is constantly seeking reward, and processed foods are engineered to stimulate your brain to want more via the addition of sugars, artificial flavours, salt, and fats. Smell, taste, texture, appearance, and proximity all play key roles in influencing how much of a certain food you will eat. For example, our brains are far more likely to want a snack if it's close by (i.e. in your desk drawer) versus three-blocks over at a local café. So it's difficult to resist when your office mates bring in a box of donuts, or when you pass by the candy store on your commute home.

Hyper-palatable foods make us far more likely to snack, and the implications on our waistlines are significant. A recent study looked into the impacts of consuming excess calories on weight gain when consuming only three square meals versus multiple meals (ie. three meals and two snacks) daily. Researchers found that if you overconsume calories, the effects are far worse when you consume them in more than just three meals a day.5

Ironically, if you ask the average person about weight loss, they’ll likely repeat the old mantra, “eating multiple meals throughout the day increases metabolism and is good for weight loss”. Unfortunately, this old dogma is a myth. A recent meta-analysis found no benefit of multiple meals on metabolism and fat loss in overweight people.6

How to Fight Off “Hyper-Palatable” Foods

Today, constant hunger is far less likely to be due to a true lack of energy and much more likely to be due to hormonal dysfunction (e.g. high insulin), nutrient deficiencies, dehydration or simply boredom. Most people internalize their inability to skip the snacks or avoid that nighttime treat as some type of personal flaw.

But what if the foods themselves were designed to achieve this trait? Processed convenience food companies use added sugars and artificial flavours that stimulate your brain to want more. That’s right: expert scientists are employed to come up with the tastes, textures, and aromas that stimulate your brain and maximize the food reward signal.

If all the extra calories are creating hormonal and metabolic havoc, how can you reboot your brain to not crave the hyper-palatable foods in every gas station, pharmacy, convenience store, and grocery store around? One simple strategy is to kick snacking to the curb. Here are a few options for different periods of the day:

Snack (AM)

After breakfast, go straight through until lunch without breaking for a snack. If you’re used to nibbling on snacks mid-morning, be warned you’re likely going to “crave” food in the first few days. However, remember this is not likely because you need energy, but more so reflects poor blood sugar control and your body’s over-reliance on burning carbs, which impairs its ability to break down fats to balance your blood sugars. 

One great tip is to have a coffee mid-morning, as caffeine naturally reduces the PYY hormone in the gut that kicks up cravings. Most people notice that after a few days, the cravings subside and they can make it through easily to lunch.

Snack (PM)

Drinking coffee in the afternoon is not typically a good idea, as it can impair deep sleep at night. Milder forms of caffeine, like black or green tea, or dark chocolate (70% or more) are better alternatives to get you through the natural circadian low we all get in the afternoon (made worse by poor blood sugar control or excessive caffeine intake). If you’re really struggling, go for veggie snacks like cherry tomatoes or bell peppers.

Late Night Snack

After a long day, you finally hit the couch and the stress of a busy day is acutely relieved by a sweet treat. However, as the days roll by you can easily become Pavlov’s dog, wanting a sugary treat as soon as the TV turns on. Drinking water or adding a non-caffeinated herbal tea can help overcome the need to have something at the end of the day. This can be a really tough time of the day for people. For some, toughing it out and going cold turkey can do the trick. For others, tapering off by snacking on frozen berries or grapes is a nice stopgap until you can cut off the snacking completely.

Get Your Health on Track

The issues caused by the Western diet, namely blood sugar dysfunction, diabetes and metabolic diseases are enabled by manufactured, highly palatable snack foods. The urge to eat is not an internal flaw, but rather the result of a food carefully engineered to make you want more. Cutting back on convenience foods and sticking to three square meals per day is a great place to start to lose weight and get your health on track.

(This article originally appeared @BreakingMuscle)

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS


Want to learn more? Listen to Dr. Stephan Guyenet PhD talk about the role of the hungry brain in weight gain and health in episode #13...

Check out more articles in the SNACKING SERIES...


1. Cordain L, et al., "Origins and evolution of the Western diet: health implications for the 21st century". Am J Clin Nutr February 2005 vol. 81 no. 2 341-354.

2. Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), "Highly processed foods dominate U. S. grocery purchases." ScienceDaily, 29 March 2015.

3. Guyanet, S., “Why Do We OverEat? A Neurobiological Perspective.” Retrieved from YouTube.

4. De Castro, J., "Social Facilitation and Inhibition of Eating." 

5. Koopman et al., "Hypercaloric diets with increased meal frequency, but not meal size, increase intrahepatic triglycerides: A randomized controlled trial." ResearchGate, 2014 Aug; 60(2): 545–553.

6. Schoenfeld B, et al., "Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis". Oxford Journals. Retrieved from:

Very High Protein Diet For Fat Loss? (Science Says Bodybuilders Were Right!)

For decades, bodybuilders preparing for competitions consumed very high quantities of protein, while reducing calories into a negative caloric deficit, in an attempt to maintain (and even increase) lean muscle will dropping significant body-fat. Over that time, researchers and sport scientists have been skeptical of this approach, suggesting it’s far too much protein than is needed to promote effective weight loss. The research seems to be catching up to a time-tested, traditional strategy used in the bodybuilding community.

A new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition compared the effects of two hypo-caloric diets on fat loss and lean muscle in people training regularly; one diet contained double the standard recommended daily protein intake and the other triple the recommended dose. The results were impressive. The group consuming 3x the daily requirements or 2.4g/kg bodyweight daily of protein had the greatest fat loss, as well as lean muscle gains, while consuming a hypo-caloric diet. (1)

One of the most common questions I get asked by clients trying to lose weight, after I suggest they increase their protein intake (sometimes dramatically), is whether it’s safe for their long-term health. We’ve been told for so long by doctors, dieticians and media to be weary of high protein diets because of suspected damage it might cause your kidneys and subsequently your health. These myths get repeated so often they seem real; however in this case, nothing could be further from the truth.

Dr. Stuart Phillips from McMaster University and world expert on protein metabolism has repeatedly stated that in healthy functioning kidneys, there are absolutely no adverse impacts on your kidney health. New research shows people consuming up to 3.0g/kg (well above the 2.4g/kg in the aforementioned study) of protein daily for an entire year show with no negative impacts on kidney function.(2) To summarize, a high protein intake is not bad for your kidneys, end of story.

So, how can you get started implementing this into your routine?

First, don’t be intimidated by the total amount of protein, For example, a 176-lb. (80kg) male would have to aim for 192g of protein per day, while a 150-lb. (68kg) female would shoot for 163g daily. For most people, that’s a lot of protein. Start with the first meal of your day and increase the protein you eat at breakfast; add another egg or two to your omelets, or another scoop of protein to your morning smoothie. Once you get accustomed to this, you can increase your portion sizes at lunch and dinner, or add higher protein snacks between meals, like grass-fed jerky, natural protein bars or shakes.

If weight loss or getting leaner is your goal this year, take a lesson the bodybuilding community has known for decades, significantly increasing your protein intake is a fantastic way to burn fat and build muscle. Don’t be afraid of protein. In combination with exercise and hypo-caloric diet you’ll be lean and looking great in no time.

Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS


Check out more articles in the "PROTEIN" SERIES...