When life gets hectic (a.k.a. every day), it can be tough to squeeze in lunch between the socially acceptable hours of, say, 12 p.m. and 4 p.m. But new research shows that grabbing meals whenever is actually screwing us over in the long run.
Scientists from King’s College London reviewed studies that looked at the impact of meal patterns on our overall health. What they discovered: Eating when you can squeeze it in vs. when you actually should is linked to a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which is linked to high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, and obesity. Basically, it’s not good.
Scientists think that eating whenever you can cram it in impacts your internal body clock, which usually follows a 24-hour cycle. A lot of your body’s metabolic processes, like your appetite, digestion, and breakdown of fat also follow this cycle, and eating can influence that internal clock. So, if you eat lunch at noon one day and can’t squeeze it in until 2:30 p.m. the next day—and you keep following this broken pattern—it can throw your body out of whack.
While you’re probably OK to do this here and there, one review that followed people’s diets for two weeks found that those who ate irregularly during that time had higher insulin levels and higher cholesterol than those who ate at the same time every day—and this was regardless of whether they were lean or overweight. Another found a link between eating at inconsistent times every day and obesity.
And, of course, researchers point out that stretching out mealtimes tends to lead to crappier nutrition choices when you can eat which, again, doesn’t exactly help with health goals.
More research is needed before scientists can definitively say that grabbing meals whenever causes crummy health outcomes, but the link is there.
So, maybe take a beat to figure out when it makes the most sense for you to eat your meals, and try to stick with it as best as you can. Your health—and your growling stomach—will thank you.