My personal training team and I are asked frequently about how to eat well to lose body fat. There are so many different discussions about how fat loss is achieved and what tricks or tips may help speed up the process. One of the more commonly held opinions is that eating late at night is not a good idea.
I have had conversations with many personal training clients who tell me, after being asked how they are managing their nutrition program, that one meal or another had “not been very good” as it was eaten late at night. The myth is that our bodies do not deal well with eating beyond a certain time. Are certain times of the day not good to consume food?
Why do we believe this myth?
Unlike some myths, there is a body of evidence to support the late-night eating theory on both mice and humans. Studies have shown that those who eat the majority of their calories in the evening are more likely to gain fat and present as obese.
The mechanism for weight gain has been said to be due to the body’s digestive system having peak times of efficiency (LINK). Dr S. Panda, lead author of a number of studies on late-night eating, has concluded that various organs have a biological clock. To eat in to the night is to disturb their clock and cause to fatty deposits to be laid down through a kind of digestive inefficiency…
- We are mammals who are designed to rise and fall with the sun.
- At night, we are supposed to be asleep and not eating.
- Our body (perhaps our metabolism) is running in slow motion and we store fat.
It sounds plausible!
Generally, people who eat the majority of their calories late at night seem to gain body fat more than those who eat during the day. This much is very clear! However, does eating late at night cause this increase in body fat or is this a correlation with no causal relationship… Could the real answer lie in the content of the meals chosen?
I honestly can’t remember the last time I stayed up late at night eating avocados and goji berries! If I am eating late at night, I may be travelling and eating whatever food I can find in an airport. I might be out with friends or family and grabbing a snack on the go. I might also be in the cinema with my favourite, a bag of peanut M&Ms. When I eat late at night, I am not doing so to improve my health, more necessity or pure indulgence!
The reason that eating late is so highly correlated with weight gain is because we are working late, watching television or socialising late into the night. All of these activities, pleasurable or not, cause our body stress and trigger cravings. If our stress levels are elevated, our brains know that eating something “comforting” and perhaps not very good for us, will bring those stress levels down again. It’s the content of the meal that truly matters here, not the hour.
Thanks for reading!