Nutrition two couples eating at night

Published on September 21st, 2013 | by Joe Starks


Fitness Jargonbuster: Late-Night Eating

It is late at night, the whole house is quiet, you are bored and the first thing on your mind is your favorite snack waiting for you in the kitchen. 1-2% of us actually eat late at night every day, a habit that has long been linked to excess weight and unhealthy eating behavior. But what is it really that makes late night eating so different from morning eating or lunch? Do our bodies really realize what time it is when we eat something? Do calories change depending on what time it is, or does our metabolism? In this article we’ll try to find some answers in as scientifically a way as possible.

What is the myth?

Studies have shown that people who tend to eat large meals at night tend to be heavier and suffer from low self-esteem. This gave birth to the myth that eating after a certain hour makes you fat in comparison to eating earlier on.

What we know for certain is that whenever you eat, for instance, a hamburger worth 600 calories, the calories remain the same. So whether you eat that hamburger at 7 in the morning or at 7 in the night, you have gained 600 calories in energy. So it is not the food that reacts differently to your body depending on the time of day.

There has been a myth that when eating during low metabolism hours you gain more weight. This also is a myth as what is important is your energy expenditure as a whole and not on certain hours of the day. So if you burn 2000 calories a day, then if you eat 2000 calories per day you won’t get fat, no matter if you eat when you are on your lowest metabolic rate of the day or the highest.

What is bad about late night eating?

So, what actually makes the difference then? One theory is that hunger levels, not metabolic rate or calories is what changes and affects your behavior. It is a fact that some foods make you feel hungrier quicker after you have eaten them. Salads, fruit and sweets, though very pleasant to munch on, will not keep you satisfied for long, causing you to eat more often and making worse choices. Cravings also can affect your behavior. If you tend to crave very strongly for certain food it is possible to overeat even when you are full. Eating late at night might be the symptom of a bad eating behavior, not the cause.

For instance, people who work very hard during the day and do not eat at all until late will most probably be so famished by the time they go home that they will eat way beyond the calories they need and make very fatty food choices. People who have too light a lunch and eat only snacks until late at night might also be so hungry by the time they are meant to go to bed that they will overeat by a lot at a late time at night.

People who are already overweight and like to overeat for comfort, will most probably surpass their calories at a later time of day, which simply comes from a lack of satiety and not from the late eating itself.

For all those people above, cutting out their latest meals of the day will most certainly help weight issues go away, but that is easier dais than done. Many enjoy eating when it is quiet and nobody is looking, allowing them to indulge way beyond the amount they should. In such cases psychotherapy might be the answer, or a very steady support from friends and family.

It is not good to eat secretly and alone. Unless you can’t help it, eat with your friend and family and turn meal times into social events, not secret problems. Do not keep large amounts of your favorite snacks in the home. Humans are foragers by nature and you will constantly want to get some of that good stuff if it is around. Distance between you and food can be a good way to stop overindulging mindlessly. If snacking at night is an integral part of your happiness then you might consider switching those snacks with something light and nutritious, like fruit, cucumbers etc This way you can eat late without putting on the pounds.

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