Can Late-Night Eating Really Cause Weight Gain?


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Regardless of being told to NOT eat after the clock hits 7 pm - because late-night eating is allegedly not good for our health - a lot of us find it too hard to resist the urge and eventually give in.

Now, it's beyond your control. So you are pretty much done with people who insist on telling you that it's bad for you to eat late.

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While a link between late-night eating and weight gain has been debated for years and many dieters do suspect a connection, the New York Times report that it has not been borne out in studies.

And speaking on the issue, nutrition and fitness expert Pamela Peeke, M.D., author of The Hunger Fix, says, "Weight gain caused by eating late is a complex issue that's not wholly false or true."

Also it's important to note that people indulge in late-night eating for a variety of reasons that often have very little to do with hunger.

The reasons can range from satisfying cravings to coping with boredom or stress. And after-dinner snacks tend not to be controlled. They often consist of large portions of high-calorie foods (like chips, cookies, candy), eaten while sitting in front of the television or computer.

In this situation, it’s all too easy to consume the entire bag, carton, or container before you realize it. Besides those unnecessary extra calories, eating too close to bedtime can cause indigestion and sleeping problems.

While there’s nothing wrong with eating a light, healthy snack after dinner as long as you plan for it as part of your daily calories, it's very important to keep from overeating. Some good options are packaged 100 calorie snacks, small servings of popcorn, ice cream bars, low-fat yogurt or fruit.

As this 2011 New York Times report notes, most of the research on the matter has been carried out in animals, and with mixed results

A 2005 study of primates at Oregon Health & Science University found that late-night meals did not lead to extra weight gain; whether consumed at 10 a.m. or 10 p.m., a calorie was just a calorie. But a study on adult men and women, published in April in the journal Obesity, has added support to the claim that eating late does have a greater effect on the waistline.

In the study, researchers followed the sleeping and eating patterns of 52 people over seven days. About half the subjects were “late sleepers,” meaning the midpoint of their sleep cycles was 5:30 a.m. or later. The others were “normal sleepers,” whose midpoints were before 5:30 a.m.

At the end of the study, the scientists found that the late sleepers had higher body mass indexes, typically downed more calories at dinner, and ate fewer fruits and vegetables. The late sleepers also slept fewer hours, a habit that is generally linked to weight gain.

But even after adjusting for these and other variables, the scientists discovered that eating after 8 p.m. was associated with a higher body mass index, suggesting that late-evening calories are, for some reason, more hazardous to your weight.

According to Dr. Peeke, "science and reality are conflicted here. Although some science says that there is no difference, in reality, there are many factors that make late-night eating a real problem."

"The catch is that when people eat later, they often tend to eat more mindlessly as they’re tired and not vigilant." Eating later can affect appetite in the morning, so that you don’t feel like eating.

"This dysregulates grehlin, the hunger hormone, and leptin, the appetite hormone," she says. "When they are not functioning optimally, appetite is off and people tend to overeat."

The bottom line here is that the link between late-night eating falls in the grey area, meaning it's neither fact nor fake. So, it's still a good idea to eat early and put a leash on your late-night cravings!

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