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Is Eating Late At Night Linked To Weight Gain?

rsz_3homerIt is very common for people to avoid eating late at night, for fear of weight gain. There is a lot of speculation that if one is healthy, they should never, ever eat late at night.

Is this new nutrition trend true? Does it really matter at what time of the day you consume the majority of your food? Does it matter if you eat right before bed?

Let us take a look at some of the research done on the topic.

Does Eating At Night Lead To Weight Gain?

In a study conducted by Northwestern University, “late” sleepers were compared with “normal” sleepers. “Late” sleepers were those that went to bed at about 3:30 A.M. and woke up at 10:00 A.M., while “normal” sleepers went to bed at 12:30 A.M. and woke up at 8:00 A.M.

The late sleepers, on average, consumed 248 extra calories a day, than their “normal” sleeper counterparts. These extra calories were consumed mainly later at night. These late sleepers also ate less fruits and vegetables, more fast food, and more soft drinks than the “normal” sleepers.

fast food

This study tells us a number of things. It could mean that those who go to sleep later, are simply more unhealthy, and thus will eat worse foods.

The increase in calories could be a direct result of a lack of healthy food options late at night, as fast food and soft drinks are much more readily available than healthy foods.

It could also be a result of circadian rhythms. Because these individuals went to sleep so late, it was not in alignment with the proper waking hours for humans, and, as a result, hunger mechanisms could be disrupted, causing overeating. All these reasons are simply speculations.

Another study that is very telling, in regards to this topic, was conducted during Ramadan. For those of you who do not know what Ramadan is, it is a Muslim holiday in which individuals are only allowed to eat when the sun is down. Thus, they are only allowed to eat at night, and must fast during the day.

ramadan eating at night

During this study, the average amount of energy expenditure (calories burned) and food consumed was very similar to these individual’s normal lives before Ramadan.

On average, each individual ate 100 calories less per day during Ramadan.  The percentage of carbohydrates, protein, and fat was also similar in comparison to before Ramadan.

The results of the study showed that the subjects actually lost weight. If eating at night is so tightly linked to weight gain, this should not have been the case.

The only studies that have shown a difference in weight gain/loss in relation to eating at night was found in rat studies.

Rats, who normally eat during the night, were given food during the day, to mimic humans eating at night, and were shown to gain substantially more weight than their night-eating counterparts. This was thought to be a result of the circadian rhythms of the rats being off.

In a study on rhesus monkeys, there was no difference in the timing of the meals.

Eating the majority of calories at night has also been shown to better in regards to muscle retention.

In conclusion, it appears that there may be a very small effect in regards to meal timing, and when we consume the majority of our calories. However, it appears that has more to due with the types of food we eat and the quantity of calories, rather than the time that we eat.

eating late

There may be some validity to those who think eating too late causes problems with our natural circadian rhythms. However, whether you eat 3000 calories in one meal at 3 in the morning, or in 6 evenly spread-out meals throughout the day, it appears to not make much of a difference in regards to weight loss/gain.

It comes down to calories. Eat less calories and you will lose weight. Eat more calories and you will gain weight.

Next time someone tells you that eating at night is unhealthy, you can tell them that they have little to no basis to make that claim, because, based on the majority of research, it is a false assertion.

 

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About Danny Maman My name is Danny Maman. I have a real passion for health and fitness and enjoy having a life that revolves around this. I have my bachelor's degree in exercise science with a minor in allied health. I am also a certified personal trainer with ACE and am a former college basketball player.

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