At one point or another, we’ve all munched on late-night snacks. But for some, the evening hours tend to be when they eat the most. We know that a big part of weight loss is what you eat and how much, but does when you eat factor into the equation? Although this topic is still debated in the scientific community, growing evidence suggests eating late at night can cause weight gain.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that nighttime eaters, those who ate between 11pm and 5am, ate an extra 500 calories a day more than non-eaters. These extra calories can quickly add up to gaining a pound a week if late-night eating is made a daily habit.
It’s unclear what caused the added food intake, but researchers speculate that it may stem from abnormal sleeping patterns or lack of sleep. To understand why this might be the case, we must first understand how our body works throughout the day and night. Your body runs on a cycle regulated by its biological clock. This internal clock impacts your biological processes, sleep cycle, hormone levels and metabolism, and reacts to environmental cues like light and dark. For instance, in the morning your inner clock tells your body it’s time to rev up metabolism to have enough energy to take on the day. At night, regardless if you are awake or asleep, your metabolism slows down because it needs less energy to function. During this time, hormones responsible for storing fat kick into high gear while those that metabolize carbohydrates take a back seat. So, if you decide to dig into a bowl of midnight bowl of ice cream, you’re doing so at a time when you’re body is actively storing fat.
If you are a chronic late night eater looking to lose weight, here are some tips to help you get your internal clock back on track:
1 Understand your late-night eating behavior.
2 You probably didn’t start out eating late at night, so when and why did it begin? Did it start out as part of an all-nighter study session in school that just continued on autopilot into adulthood? Maybe you like to watch movies late at night, and buttered popcorn is just a part of that ritual. By identifying the origin of your late-night eating behavior and the reasons behind it, you can develop strategies to break the habit.
3 Set a series of goals to improve your sleep quality and quantity.
4 It may sound easy to do, but for those of us with sleeping conditions or problems getting proper sleep, there’s a lot more to it. Try setting a set of mini-goals that will ultimately get you to a healthier state of rest. For instance, if you normally go to bed at 1am, set a goal to go to bed at 11pm for 30 days. Then after that, set another goal to turn off the TV at least 30 minutes before lights out for the next 30 days. The achievement of the mini goals will add up to the ultimate goal of sufficient sleep to make your internal clock happy and prevent late-night eating.
5 Reset your meal schedule.
6 Late-night eating may have a tendency to throw appropriate calorie counts for each meal out of whack. As described earlier, your metabolism is highest in the morning and slowest at night. But since you aren’t hungry in the morning due to late-night eating, you don’t eat anything during the time of day when your body does its best work at burning calories. Make it a point to start eating a healthy breakfast, lunch, dinner, and yes, even a snack. Appropriate calorie levels distributed through the day will give you your best chance to lose the urge to snack late at night.
7 Take note of calories at each meal.
8 This works hand-in-hand with #3. Depending on how much weight you are looking to lose, set a meal plan with appropriate calorie levels for each meal. This is dictated by your Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), which you can find out from your medical provider.
The point here is not to turn all night owls into early birds. Everyone is different and will do what feels best for his or her individual lifestyle. Just be aware of the facts linking to late-night eating to weight gain and do your best to adopt the types of behaviors that can support your weight loss dreams. And you know how to dream, right? Get some sleep!