There’s a lot of controversy whether eating at different times of the day impacts weight. The most controversial point has been whether breakfast is truly “the most important meal of the day”. New data seems to confirm what most of us have believed all along- eating late at night has a detrimental impact on weight loss efforts.
Too often, as evening turns to night, we find ourselves looking for a snack. Sometimes the impulse comes from a bit of hunger, but its just as likely we make our way to the kitchen without thinking. A potentially problematic habit. The occasional late-night snack is not at issue. It is the nightly bingeing that requires a closer look. Experts are even now debating the need to make nocturnal overeating a new medical diagnosis, but the debate on whether it causes significant concerns is waning.
A recent study presented this year at the European and International Congress on Obesity (ECOICO 2020), led by Judith Baird, a PhD student at the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE), Ulster University, Northern Ireland found:
“If you eat most of your calorie intake earlier in the day it might help to reduce your overall calorie intake. Our work suggests that it might be useful to consider time of day when developing nutritional interventions for weight loss and health because it helps reduce overall energy intake.”
Many studies have shown that eating breakfast is typically associated with healthier diets but this research demonstrated what happens at the other end. Breakfast tends to be our most nutrient-rich meal. If the greater percentage of calorie intake is after 6 pm it’s more likely breakfast wasn’t a part of the day.
Important takeaways from the research were:
- 40% of calories were taken in during the evening hours and they contained nutritionally poorer quality foods
- There is a possible relationship between being more sedentary in the evening and how that impacts our food selections. The question then is, are there cultural traditions surrounding what foods we eat, and when we eat them?
“For years, we said a calorie is a calorie no matter when you consume it,” says dietitian Joy Dubost, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “I don’t know if we can say that anymore, based on the emerging research. The timing of a meal may potentially have an impact.”
For the large part, studies were conducted on individuals who were known to have a disorder called “night eating disorder,” and consumed at least 25% of their calories after dinner or woke up to eat. From these studies, researchers gather that calories consumed outside of a person’s circadian rhythm the more likely calories are stored as fat than burned as energy. According to an article Out of sync, in The Scientist, research continues to add to the growing recognition “that our metabolisms are primed by the circadian machinery written in our genes, and that discord between the two can wreak havoc on our systems.”
How can the circadian rhythm so heavily influence how food is processed? It’s largely due to fluctuations in body temperature, biochemical reactions, hormone levels, physical activity and absorption and digestion of food. As with so many other instances in our lives, timing is everything; eating at the wrong time can throw off the body’s metabolic cycles, leading to weight gain and higher levels of blood sugar, which can raise the risk of chronic disease.
In our frenzied society, learning to stop the habit of eating late and establishing healthier eating pattern can be difficult. Next week I’ll talk about how to break the cycle.