Picture this. It’s the middle of the week. You came back from work late, and now you’re planning to stay awake and watch a movie. And as we all know that a movie and junk food make a perfect power couple, you order food online. The rest is history.
If that’s how your week goes, don’t be surprised if you put on a few extra pounds. If that happens, what would you blame? Late-night munching or junk food?
Late-night munching has been linked with weight gain for decades. You must have even heard your relatives suggesting you eat before 8 pm to keep off those several pounds you can gain from late-night munching. But have you been told the truth or is it just one of those old folk tales your elders have told you about?
Well, let’s find out.
Let’s uncover the truth, shall we?
If you have gained a few pounds after nights of eating late, it’s not the late-night snacking but the snack you are choosing. At the end of the day, it’s all about the calories you are taking in and the calories you are burning. The only reason you have put on weight is that you were in a calorie surplus. In simple words, you consumed more calories than you burned.
The time you had your food, whether it was carbs or fat, is not crucial for weight loss, but calorie deficit is. The only way to lose fat is to be in a calorie deficit.
What gave way to the theory that late-night munching causes weight gain?
The theory stems from several studies conducted on animals. As per these studies, animals gained weight upon being fed late at night. This is probably because of the hypothesis that your body consumes calories differently after a certain point in the day. At night, the metabolism slows down and your body begins to store calories excessively, rather than burning them.
Late-night eating goes against the circadian rhythm. Circadian rhythm can be called your body’s clock. These are physical, mental and behavioural changes that happen in 24 hours. These natural processes affect all living things. These processes can be your body’s response to night and day, when you wake up and when you sleep, and when you eat. When you eat at night, and go against the circadian rhythm, it spoils your body’s balance and plans as nights are for sleeping, not eating.
The study was primarily conducted on rats. It was observed that the rat that ate against the circadian rhythm gained more fat than a rat which ate during the waking hours; the amount and food calories were also the same.
While the study proves the existence of a relationship between food and the timing of consuming it, there are not enough studies conducted on humans that prove the hypothesis.
However, not all studies in humans support this notion. For instance, a study was conducted in which over 1600 children participated. Every child was fed dinner after 8 pm but did not gain weight or consumed more calories throughout the day.
But when this same study was conducted on 52 adults, an increase in calorie intake was observed, which led to weight gain in the long run.
The drawback of eating too early
The only drawback with eating early is that you can get hungry later in the night if you happen to be awake. Consequently, you will eat more calories, which will sabotage your weight loss plans.
The drawback of eating too late
Eating late at night is often not recommended for the following reasons:
- Disturbed sleep
- Poor digestion
- Increase in blood pressure
- Increased mood swings and poor mental health
Hence, the key is eating your dinner at the right time. Aim to have your dinner at least 2 hours before your bedtime.
While the notion of late-night eating directly causing weight gain may have been exaggerated, it is essential to consider the broader context of one’s overall dietary habits and lifestyle choices. While the timing of meals may have some impact on metabolic processes, the quality and quantity of the food consumed, as well as the individual’s calorie intake and physical activity level, play more significant roles in weight management.
It is always wise to maintain a balanced and nutritious diet, practice portion control, and engage in regular exercise to achieve and maintain a healthy weight, regardless of the time of day when we choose to eat. By adopting a holistic approach to our eating habits, we can make informed choices that support our overall well-being.