Understanding chrononutrition: 7 key facts about the chrono diet
Invented by Dr. Alain Delabos in 1986, chrononutrition is a different way of eating which is designed to fit in with your body clock. Today, our chaotic way of life means we all eat on the go, whenever we get the chance and whatever happens to be to hand.
Chrononutrition is a way of balancing your diet with an eating plan which helps you to stay or become slim by following a few simple rules that help us break our bad little habits. No food is off limits with this diet, you just need to learn to eat meals at regular times.
One thing you need to be aware of is that this diet focuses on the consumption of protein and fats, in particular in the morning, and contains only small amounts of fruit and vegetables. It can therefore present certain risks, in particular of hyperlipidemia, as outlined by the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) at the end of 2010 after 15 “star” diets were analysed (of which chrononutrition was one). It is therefore useful to seek medical advice or consult a nutritionist before going on this kind of diet.
The principle of chrononutrition
Doctor Delabos developed this method because he subscribes to the notion that food is absorbed by the body in different ways according to when it is consumed. The idea is that food is used by the body to a greater or lesser extent depending on the time of day; it can be converted into energy, or stored up at the risk of turning into fat over the long term. We know, for example, that fat and sugar eaten in the evening will be stored by the body whereas if they are consumed in the morning, they will be a significant source of energy for the day. This is why it is important to “eat cheese in the morning and not in the evening, it is too stodgy”, explains Doctor Chauchard, who commercialised a similar diet called the “Chrono-geno diet” (combining chrononutrition, detox and glycemic index into an eating plan that is tailored to suit your blood group).
In other words, if you want to lose weight, you should adapt your diet according to the fluctuations in your body’s metabolism throughout the day.
Your body morphotype
Body morphotype is defined by our physical characteristics (you can have an hourglass figure for example, or a more apple-shaped figure) which are determined in part by our genetics but also by our dietary habits and physical activity. Chrononutrition takes morphotype into account in order to help you understand how your body works and why it tends to store up fat more than others.
Four meals a day
Claude Chauchard reminds us that the body secrets hormones (insulin and cortisol) around every four hours. This is why each time the body demands food in order to function properly, it is important to supply it with the right food at the right moment. This means fatty foods at breakfast, a substantial meal at lunch, something sugary to snack on and a light dinner (those who are not hungry can even skip dinner as the body uses up much less energy in the evening).
Finally, according to the principles of chrononutrition, your three daily meals (and snack) should be eaten at precise times, around every four hours. This is the average time is takes for the body to digest the food. Respecting these intervals will avoid any risk of your body storing up fat.
Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince...
Chrononutrition is based on the old adage: “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.”
Breakfast should be hearty and include cheese, butter, starchy foods (bread or rice), protein (an egg or some ham) and fruit. During sleep, the body burns a lot of calories in order to regenerate and when you wake up your batteries will be flat. The body needs “fuel” in order to start the day full of energy. You don’t need to worry about calories either as your body will be burning them all day long!
Lunch means the body can stay on top form for the rest of the day. You should opt for one course only, composed mainly of animal protein and starchy foods. There should be less fat than at breakfast and you should also get a small amount of slow sugars and vegetable protein. Finally, make sure you don’t eat too much at lunch, as the objective here is not to weigh your body down as it still has a way to go before it can rest.
Snacks are very important in chrononutrition. It is these which will provide your body with the necessary fuel to keep going until evening without you needing to wolf down food at dinner time, the exact moment when your body starts to store up food. You should snack on sugary things and enjoy eating fruit, dried fruit or dark chocolate.
For dinner, you should eat light so that this will not hinder the body’s work during sleep. This meal is not obligatory in chrononutrition, but if you do include it you should go for foods which are absorbed easily by the body: fish, lean meat and vegetables. “In the evening, you should avoid fast burning sugars, fats and starchy foods”, Claude Chauchard explains. The goal here is to avoid triggering the secretion of insulin.
Foods that are off limits
With chrononutrition, no food is banned from your diet. What counts is eating the right types of food (protein, fat, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) at the right time.
Free reign twice a week
On his website, Dr. Delabos explains that twice a week, you can allow yourself free reign and eat a meal that does not follow the rules of the chrono diet. The idea is that a healthy mind means a healthy plate. But be careful not to break the rules more than twice a week though, and never on the same day.
And you get to eat chocolate every day!
Dark chocolate is known for its antioxidant properties and its richness in magnesium. The good news is that it is also strongly recommended in chrononutrition. It is an excellent source of energy which allows you to finish your day on a high. Make sure you only eat dark chocolate (70% cocoa minimum) and don’t eat more than 30g a day.
Interview with Dr Claude Chauchard, May 2012
-"Evaluation des risques liés aux pratiques alimentaires d'amaigrissement", (Evaluation of the risks tied to weight loss diet practices), A report on collective expertise, ANSES, 25 November 2010, téléchargeable en ligne (160 pages)
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