Is there a magical time each night when calorie processing abruptly shifts from calorie burning to fat storage and the option to eat without getting fat dissolves like Cinderella’s princess gown and carriage?
When Night Eating Can Impact Weight
So the body doesn’t shuttle calories to our butt and thighs to be stored as fat when the clock strikes 6:00 or 7:00 pm, so why is there a link between nighttime eating and weight?
Unwinding At Night
Late night eating won’t result in weight gain unless it results in overeating. When we look at the entire day and times people are most likely going to overeat, it’s not at breakfast or lunch – it’s at night. Many of us arrive home feeling stressed from the day and ready to unwind. For those who have coupled eating with unwinding and relaxing, mindless overeating is likely. Vegging out in front of the TV after dinner with a bag of chips can feel comforting, but over time this mindless eating can change a person’s weight.
I have worked with emotional eaters for years and I can count on one hand the number of people who described DAYTIME emotional eating. Eating in response to emotions most often occurs at night (examples of emotional eating include stress-induced eating or eating in response to sadness, happiness, anxiety, or depression). Studies showing weight loss in emotional eaters who stopped eating at 6:00 or 7:00 pm and attribute it to a magical evening cutoff time are in the wrong – it’s not a magical time of day, for these eaters it resulted in a calorie deficit. It’s math people.
Overeating at night in response to a skimpy day is really tough to avoid. When we arrive home ravenous, our bodies naturally want to eat a lot of food and eat it fast. The feelings of fullness and satiety might not set in until someone has not only made up for the light day, but also eaten more than they needed for the entire day and night. Avoid overeating at night by eating enough and eating regularly throughout the day.
What Happens When We Sleep
When we slumber, metabolism slows, but it does not turn off. The belief – and fear – that late night fare will not be used because our bodies completely shut down calorie burning while we sleep is simply unfounded.
Breakfast = Break The Fast
We rely on our evening meal or snack to get us through the night. When we turn the lights out at night, we are headed into an eight (give or take) hour fast. This is one of the handful of reasons that breakfast is as important as it is – we wake up after the fast and need fuel to get our day going.
Meaghan Ormsby, MS, RD is a private practice dietitian in Seattle, WA.