With our fast-paced lifestyles and high-pressure jobs, meal choices are more a matter of convenience than health. This isn’t just true with the foods we eat, but it’s also relevant in the context of meal timings. Today, almost all of us eat dinner after 9 pm because eating any time earlier often just isn’t practical. Work hours and insane commutes really do get in the way of making healthy choices. But, is eating after 9 pm really the cause of your expanding waistline?
Weight Gain And Late Night Meals
“A calorie is a calorie no matter what time you consume it and metabolism or fat storage does not change magically with the time of day; nor do the calories in your food”
Over the years, research has time and again shown that people who eat meals late at night tend to be more susceptible to weight gain than those who consume all of their meals early. One study found that people who consume most of their food at night have a higher BMI, while another that appeared in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that those eating meals in the wee hours, between 11 pm to 5 am experienced above average weight gain.
“Weight gain will only occur when you ingest more calories than you consume”
But nutritionists and researchers insist that although late-night meals can be linked with weight gain, they cannot be regarded as the cause for weight gain. After all, a calorie is a calorie no matter what time you consume it and metabolism or fat storage does not change magically with the time of day; nor do the calories in your food. Weight gain will only occur when you ingest more calories than you consume. So, how do we explain the link between late-night meals and weight gain? If the belief that eating after 9 pm causes weight gain is simply a myth, why does science seem to back it up?
Weight Gain From Late Night Eating Explained
"When we eat at night, it’s usually after a stressful day and we land up overeating because food choices are driven more by boredom and stress, rather than by hunger – this excess calorie intake causes weight gain”
Contrary to popular belief and age-old wisdom, this kind of weight gain does not occur on account of a slowing down of body metabolism. It is because of behaviour, eating patterns, and food choices that we tend to make after a long gap between meals, which usually happens with late night meals. When we eat at night, it’s usually after a stressful day and we land up overeating because food choices are driven more by boredom and stress, rather than by hunger. This means that if you eat after 9 pm there is a higher risk of consuming more calories than you need. This results in a buildup of fat. Psychological factors, however, are not the only cause of weight gain from late night eating.
“Maintaining large gaps between meals increases hunger pangs and delays satiety while going to bed on a full stomach impairs digestion and sleep – these factors increase the risk of weight gain”
In addition to making unhealthy food choices, there is also a physiological component to late night eating related weight gain, as maintaining large gaps between meals increases hunger pangs and also delays satiety. This means you land up eating more but do not experience satiety as quickly. Eating late at night also means that you are more likely to go to bed on a full stomach and this impairs digestion and sleep. As a consequence, people who eat late night meals or post-dinner snacks have a greater tendency to wake up without an appetite for breakfast. Skipping breakfast then results in greater calorie intake through unhealthy snacking during the day.
If you are worried about weight gain, you don’t need to avoid post 9 pm meals altogether, but should instead be more mindful of what you eat. Making healthy food choices and ensuring that you eat breakfast will help to limit your calorie intake, which is more important for maintaining or losing weight.