It is a widely known piece of advice that warns against eating after 8 PM as if your body takes all food consumed after that magical time and turns it instantly to fat. So, today, let's take a look at this food myth and see if late-night snacking packs on the pounds!
Where does this originate?
Well, with mice. No, really. Many scientists have run many animal studies that support the theory that nocturnal noshing helps pile on some pounds. When mice ate out of sync with their circadian rhythm (the 24-hour cycle that tells your body when to do what), they gained more weight than mice that ate only when they were naturally awake.
However, mice are not men. Well, people. Well, you get it. Not all of the studies done on humans have supported the myth. As a matter of fact, human studies seem to show that it's not the time of day that you eat but how much you eat that makes the difference.
Let's look at a couple of different studies. The first tracked 1600 people and found no link between taking dinner past 8 PM and weight gain. However, another study that followed 52 adults found that those who usually ate past 8 PM took in more calories than those that ate earlier. This excess caloric intake could lead to weight gain.
Late eaters eat more?
So it would seem! Researchers followed yet another 59 folks who all ate closer to their bedtime than others. These individuals regularly consumed around 500 more calories per day than those who stopped eating during the daytime hours. This lead to a 10-pound weight difference over time between the groups.
Why do folks who eat late eat more? Well, the evidence points to the actual food they choose to eat. Many folks that work later jobs, or have a busy schedule that pushes their eating back, tend to make quick and easy decisions for calorie-dense processed foods.
Emotional eating is also a factor later in the evening. Stress and anxiety fuel the desire to eat when the body doesn't really need anything extra! Also, tiredness has been linked to increased caloric intake. Mostly due to hormonal fluctuations that occur during sleep deprivation that drive appetite.
So, what you eat absolutely matters more than when you eat once again.
Breakfast. It matters.
They don't call it the most important meal of the day for nothing! Breakfast sets the tone of your tummy for the rest of the day. In another study, people that took in a 600 calorie breakfast had significantly fewer cravings during the day than those that were given 300 calories for breakfast. This was especially true for those sweet tooth cravings!
However, if you are a later night eater, breakfast may not be necessary for you on the traditional timetable. Just follow your hunger cues on when to eat, and make sure what you're eating is quality. Changing the frequency, size, and quality of what you eat is crucial to finding the right rhythm for your overall health!
So, to sum up, calories don't count more at night. You won't gain weight just because you eat later, just so long as you're eating within your calorie goals.
If you find yourself hungry after dinner, which happens quite a bit if you're exercising regularly, make sure you're choosing nutrient-rich foods and low-calorie beverages!