With changing habits and sleeping patterns, it has become quite common to eat late at night. While the discussion about late-night eating sessions and weight gain has been going around for a while – it is important to note how eating late at night influences our weight.
Some researchers hypothesize that eating at night goes against your circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour cycle that tells your body when to sleep, eat and wake. Meanwhile, the idea that eating at night makes you gain weight stems from animal studies, which suggest that the body may use consumed calories differently past a certain time of day.
Night Eating & Weight
Recent research conducted in the United States has found that eating four hours later than normal changes many of the physiological and molecular mechanisms that favour weight gain.
This finding adds to other recently published work which has found that eating earlier in the day is more beneficial for both appetite and body weight control.
The study included 16 participants who followed two different meal schedules, each for six days total.
The first group of participants ate their meals early in the day with the last meal consumed approximately six hours and 40 minutes before bedtime. However, the second protocol had participants eat all of their daily meals approximately four hours later. This group skipped breakfast and instead had lunch, dinner and an evening meal. Their last meal was consumed only two and a half hours before sleep.
The study ensured that the participants in each group consume an identical diet. The time between the meals was evenly spaced with around four hours between them.
Researchers included the following parameters as their study points,
- The influence of appetite
- The impact of eating time on energy expenditure (calories burned)
- Molecular changes from fat tissue.
The study protocol included participants who rated their feelings of hunger throughout the day. The second protocol included blood sample collection to look at the levels of appetite-regulating hormones in participants’ blood. These hormones include leptin (which helps us feel full) and ghrelin (which makes us feel hungry). These hormones were assessed hourly over 24 hours during the third and sixth day of each trial.
According to the results, late eating not only increased subjective feelings of hunger the following day, but it also increased the ratio of “hunger” hormones in the blood – despite participants eating an identical diet in both protocols.
Late eating also caused a decrease in the number of calories burned the following day. In the participants who did the fat tissue biopsy, late eating was also shown to cause molecular changes that promote fat storage.
While a significant answer as to why late-night eating promotes weight gain has not been found yet, the study shows that it’s probably the result of multiple factors working together. Late eating was also shown to cause molecular changes that promote fat storage in patients who went through tissue biopsy.
Those who eat at night tend to eat more and, therefore, consume extra calories. Over time, a surplus of calories can lead to weight gain.
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