Environmental Nutrition: Does nighttime eating make you gain weight?
The foods consumed late at night seldom include steamed broccoli or kale salads. Chips, cookies, cakes, trail mix, and pretzels are among the more common fare for late-night snacking. The calories from fat and sugar from these foods can quickly add up. The higher the fat and sugar, and sometimes sodium content, the more likely you are to crave more.
“Eating late can alter your circadian rhythm,” says Tewksbury. As a result, it may affect your ability to sleep. Inadequate sleep has itself been associated with weight gain. While the mechanism isn’t completely understood, some research suggests that late-night snacking can shift hormones, such as ghrelin, growth hormone, and others and shift the body toward weight gain. Eating during the day, rather than at night, has been found to promote weight loss and improve insulin levels.
While nighttime snacking may cause a shift in hormones that affect appetite and alter your body’s circadian rhythm, eating before bedtime also increases the risk of experiencing acid reflux, when stomach acid or bile flows into the food pipe and irritates the lining. Some experts have suggested its best to stop eating at around 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m. However, Tewsksbury says, “If someone sets a goal to reduce late eating, the best cut-off time is the one they can stick with. This will be different for everyone and may take some time to achieve.”
“What we do not fully understand right now,” says Tewksbury, “is how the body reacts to calories at different times and for different people. Recommendations for or against nighttime eating will change as science evolves and we have a better understanding.” In the meantime, she suggests that clients keep a detailed food journal to see if nighttime snacking is an issue and adjust their eating patterns by shifting snacking to earlier in the day.
(Environmental Nutrition is the award-winning independent newsletter written by nutrition experts dedicated to providing readers up-to-date, accurate information about health and nutrition in clear, concise English. For more information, visit www.environmentalnutrition.com.)
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