4 Ways Waking Up at 5 am Changed My Eating & Drinking Habits for the Better
I've always been a night owl and never a morning person. In fact, I (used to) resent whatever worm was provoking those ever-proud "early birds" to rise before dawn and get their days going before the sun has even had a chance to pour a cup of coffee. But with the dawning of a new year, I wanted to commit to a New Year's resolution that could potentially boost my productivity while benefiting my personal health and wellness goals.
However, after learning a few tips on how to make my New Year's resolutions more sustainable and doing a little research on eating times relative to appetite and energy expenditure, I came up with an actionable resolution that I decided to get an early jump on in December: I would attempt waking up at 5:00 am every day for 30 consecutive weekdays, and see if changing this one aspect of my routine would produce any notable differences in my mental and physical health.
Why I joined the '5 am club'
While my ability to pack a lot into one day can be very impressive, my ambition has sometimes been known to override my need for self-care. Something as simple as remembering to eat a complete meal while simultaneously drinking water throughout the day could fall by the wayside. Though I wouldn't eat much throughout a single day, you wouldn't know this based on what number I saw on the scale or my blood pressure, which typically can run a bit high. Overall, I just wanted to be kinder to myself. Rather than do things on autopilot, I ultimately wanted to give myself the gift of more time and execute with greater intention.
I came across research from a report published in Cell Metabolism suggesting that eating later on could actually increase hunger throughout the day, which explained some of my spontaneous snack splurges. The study's results also indicated that late-night eating could increase one's obesity risk due to a potentially slower caloric burn and more calories stored in their fat tissues—which could account for why I was perhaps having difficulty losing weight. Other scientific studies have also historically noted a connection between circadian rhythms and appetite, blood sugar, as well as metabolism. That's when I realized that perhaps it's not what I was doing that prevented me from achieving what I wanted, but when I chose to take action that might make a difference.
After discussing this with a friend, they suggested I check out a copy of leadership and elite performance expert Robin Sharma's self-help book the 5 am Club. In this book, he outlines principles that encourage readers to "own your morning; elevate your life," based on key observations he had while working with some of the world's most successful business owners. According to the book, one commonality most successful people seem to have is this habit of rising at 5 am. Additionally, he notes that having realistic expectations for yourself combined with the effort to make gradual progress toward a goal can be more beneficial to you and have more staying power in the long run than expecting instant results.
Because I usually would wake up around 6:30 am, part of me was skeptical about if this small change in my routine would really help improve my lifestyle, particularly my eating and drinking habits. But who doesn't want to be more successful? If I wanted to reap the benefits that members of this "club" were supposedly experiencing, I had to find new ways to step outside of my comfort zone—another principle Sharma notes as integral to success.
"Some people may have more motivation to follow healthy habits in the morning," explains Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, LD, CLEC, author of the First Time Mom's Pregnancy Cookbook, the 7 Ingredient Healthy Pregnancy Cookbook, and Fueling Male Fertility. "So, giving yourself more time during that time of the day may allow for more cooking, exercising, meditation, or creating an environment that is conducive to a person's needs."
Though Sharma suggests trying this for 66 days, here's how waking up at 5 am has already improved my eating and drinking habits 30 days in—and why I intend to see this through for another 36 days to make this new positive really habit stick.
More well-rounded, wholesome meals each day—including breakfast
While I understood and respected the fact that breakfast was "the most important meal of the day," prior to waking up at 5 am every day, my attitude toward this meal on weekdays was more like, "Get anything into your body ASAP to upstart your metabolism and keep it moving—hustle!"
If I did eat breakfast, these morning meals were often very nutritionally one-sided rather than a full, well-balanced meal. For instance, I would eat just a protein bar one day, or only a plain cup of vanilla Greek yogurt, or just a piece of hand fruit. When I couldn't figure out something to eat that was easy to grab-and-go in under 10 minutes or less, I'd sometimes even skip this meal altogether, opting for a cup of coffee with a little oat milk instead. But waking up at 5 am allowed me to frontload my day with more time, giving me the flexibility and freedom to think things through and strategically plan a well-balanced, nourishing meal.
These effects then trickled down into how I approached lunch and dinner because I didn't have to think too deeply about compensating for any nutritional daily value I had perhaps glossed over or missed during my haphazard attempt at breakfast. Rather than constantly trying to self-correct earlier shortsighted, impulsive eating or drinking decisions, each new meal felt like a fresh start I was able to prepare and enjoy on my own terms.
More meal prep & less food waste
I used to think that in order to successfully meal prep, you needed to block out hours of your weekend to get everything together for the upcoming week. However, I found that by starting the day at 5 am every morning, I was able to be more strategic with my meal planning and prep, organizing things day by day. I love to cook, and having a quiet morning of chopping, slicing, and sautéing felt very meditative without the pressure of worrying about what time every single thing needed to be done.
This meal prep also enabled my ability to cook more often versus ordering takeout—and because I was cooking more, I was also wasting less food. This led to decreased financial stress all around. More importantly, the ability to plan enabled my ability to make smarter choices about what I ate in addition to when, so my meals, snacks, and beverages supported and sustained my energy throughout the day.
More healthy hydration & less desire for alcohol
Before this experiment, I used to surround myself with multiple glasses of water and then set alarms to remind myself to actually drink them. At the time, I didn't realize that perhaps the reason why I was neglecting to drink water had something to do with how rushed I was feeling overall in my everyday life. But getting my day going at 5 am took off some of this pressure, and I found myself drinking more water when I was naturally thirsty.
Also, I've always been a big fan of a nightcap with dinner. Drinking a glass of rosé with my evening meal was a ritual I looked forward to every night like a reward for surviving another tough day. However, once I started waking up at 5 am every day, drinking a glass of wine or any other alcohol during the week lost its appeal. On occasion when I did have a glass of wine in the evening, I noticed a dragging feeling and lack of energy the next morning that made it much harder to get on task for the day. So, my January went from somewhat damp to completely dry in a matter of days without even meaning to—and I don't really miss having wine every day either.
Reclaiming my time & health
Because I used waking up at 5 am as an opportunity to set myself up for healthy choices throughout the day, things that were once challenging became easy. In addition to regulating my circadian rhythms—even instinctively waking up at 5 am on weekends without an alarm—joining the 5 am club has benefited me in a few ways. Mainly, it's allowed me to reclaim more time for myself, ultimately minimizing some of my daily stress and helped curb my anxiety. This has made it much easier to fall asleep and wake up naturally well-rested and charged for the next day.
"It isn't surprising that people may feel positive effects when they wake up earlier—as long as they are allowing their bodies to get enough sleep by going to bed a bit earlier, too," says Manaker. "Over time, inadequate sleep can be linked to weight gain, experiencing a hard time focusing, and irritability. So, if a person is getting enough sleep, waking up earlier can certainly have some positive health effects."
Furthermore, over the last few days, my blood pressure readings have come in at around a healthy 120/80. And although weight loss was not my primary endgame, it was nice to see that I've lost a little over four pounds. All of these positive changes have occurred after making just one small, uncomfortable adjustment to my routine.
"I've actually been waking up earlier over the past two days, and I am amazed at how much more I get done," Manaker also tells Eat This, Not That!
Now, I can't say that if you do all these things exactly as I did, you will get the exact same results. After all, everyone's bodies, schedules, medical histories, and dietary needs, of course, vary. However, there is something to be said about shaking up your routine in small ways to forge new habits anchored in positive change.
- Source: https://www.eatthis.com/eating-late-obesity-study/
- Source: https://www.cell.com/cell-metabolism/pdfExtended/S1550-4131(22)00397-7
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3655529/
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5995632/#R18
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3781773/
- Source: https://www.fda.gov/food/new-nutrition-facts-label/daily-value-new-nutrition-and-supplement-facts-labels