When we eat may be as important as how much. This is the message for anyone who would like to lose weight, a group that includes the majority of Americans and the overwhelming proportion of people with diabetes.
This message comes to us in the form of a Northwestern Medical study of 51 people that the journal Obesity just published online. The study will appear in print this summer. The university sent me the full-text of the forthcoming article by Kelly Glazer Baron, a health psychologist and neurology instructor at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine, and colleagues.
They studied 23 late sleepers and 28 normal sleepers and found that the late sleepers ate 248 more calories a day. In addition, they ate twice as much fast food and half as many fruits and vegetables as those who went to bed earlier.
They found that people who go to bed late eat more calories in the evening. "We don't know if late sleepers consume the extra calories because they prefer more high-calorie foods or because there are less healthful options at night," says Kathryn Reid, research assistant professor in neurology at the Feinberg School.
The study doesn't say, but my guess is that the problem is that late sleepers eat more after they finish dinner than normal sleepers do. They all probably eat dinner at about the same time. So the late sleepers have more hours between dinner and bed, and consequently fill that time by eating more after dinner. We know that an important weight-loss strategy is not to eat after dinner, since we don't have enough time then to work off those calories.
As I write this review, I am taking a cruise through Alaska's Inside Passage and am well aware of the weighty dangers of shipboard life. Like almost everyone else, I have always gained a few pounds on a cruise. One reason is that they feed you so well on a ship. And the most dangerous of all those meals is the infamous midnight buffet.
Now we know from the Northwestern University study just how unhealthy midnight buffets and all post-dinner snacking can be for our waistline. Let this knowledge be our power to face down these temptations.