Will Late-Night Eating Cause Weight Gain?

Health Writer

Some earlier research seemed to suggest that if you spread your calories over a day or if you eat minimally during the day and consume most of your calories at night, you should not be at risk of gaining weight.   According to the research, regardless of your eating pattern style, your weight should not fluctuate if you keep the calorie amount stable and it is balanced with your physical activity effort.   Some studies in the past on animals have shown that timing of meals, exposure to light and sleep patterns might impact metabolism.   According to a new study, people who snack after 8 pm have higher BMIs (body mass indexes) than people who don't snack at night, even if the night-time snackers do not eat "significantly" more calories at night.

Researchers at Northwestern University in Chicago assembled a test group of 52 participants.   The idea was to monitor sleep patterns and see the impact on eating patterns, particularly night-time eating patterns.   Night owls, or "late sleepers" were classified as having a midpoint of sleep at 5:30 am.   They also logged less sleep hours overall than normal sleepers.   And the research found they had higher BMIs and ate more calories after 8 pm.   They also, coincidentally ate fewer fruits and vegetables.   The researchers adjusted for age, sleep duration and sleep timing.   So what can someone who eats at night take away from this research?

Well, think about it.   If you have dinner and then stay up really late, that will mean you face a lot of hours of not eating after dinner, compared to someone with a normal sleep cycle.   So staying up later at night already has a built in temptation to eat additional post dinner snacks.   Remember also, that if you eat late at night, you may not be really hungry for breakfast the next morning, and missing breakfast sets you up for a repeat cycle of....late night eating.   If you want to look at European countries, where dinner is a late meal, it's important to note that  people will  walk after that late meal.   More walking during the daytime in those countries may also occur, helping to spur metabolic rates and help with energy balance.   Snacking at night often means mindless eating, which can certainly  instigate denial of just how much you are noshing or lack of tracking how many calories you re eating through the night, post dinner.

A good series of rules to follow:

  • Try and wrap up dinner by 7/7:30 pm.
  • Only have a piece of fruit or some vegetables as your post dinner snack.
  • Only drink zero calories beverages like water or brewed tea.
  • If you have to have a snack then consider a low fat or fat free pudding or frozen yogurt, a juice pop, or some other relatively low cal treat that takes time to eat.
  • Gum chewing is OK too- just beware the side effect of gastro-intestinal gas.