Late-Night Eating : Should you or shouldn’t you?
Many discussions have surrounded this topic. Here are a few of the commonly asked questions :
- Does late-night eating cause weight gain?
- How late is too late?
- What can I eat late at night that will not cause weight gain?
- If hunger strikes after an evening work out, what should/could I eat?
Indeed, many myths have long been associated with late-night eating. Many believe that late-night eating leads to fat storage. The fact of the matter is that from the energy balance standpoint, in the evening, « energy out » is often inferior to « energy in ». However, the human body does not manage this energy balance on an up-to-the-minute basis, but rather on 24-hour and even several day trends. Time of day does not influence how your body digests the foods nor how it processes the energy supplied from foods.
The real question is : Am I truly hungry?
When we are hungry, our body is telling us that it needs fuel. The best thing to do is to choose a food that corresponds to the level of hunger you are feeling at that time. The same can be said about evening workouts. A high protein post-workout snack can be very beneficial as it can prevent feeling hungry at night and ravenous the following morning.
Do not mistake cravings for hunger
For example, if you are used to eating your evening dinner in front of the television on a regular basis, it has become a conditioned response. What this means is, your brain associates the act of sitting in front of the television with the act of eating. Therefore, over time, the simple act of sitting in front of the television triggers your brain to think of food.
Furthermore, the countless number of food commercials stimulate your desire to eat. In these instances, the type of foods we choose to eat will promote overeating, i.e., high calorie foods with little or no nutritional value. To top it off, because we are distracted by the television, we can absentmindedly consume larger quantities.
Because of fatigue at the end of the day, signals to the brain telling you that you have had enough to eat can be less noticeable. This too can contribute to overindulging. For many of us, evening snacking is a way to relieve stress on a daily basis or to fill an emotional void (ex. : boredom or frustration). These different situations produce an increase in food energy supply which contributes to weight gain.
There you have it, late-night eating will not make you gain weight. A calorie is a calorie. Fat storage does not change according to the time of day. However, the context in which you eat, the quality of foods you eat, the quantity of food you eat, and finally, eating in the absence of hunger will influence weight gain.
The next time you think you are having late-night hunger pains, ask yourself these questions : are you truly hungry or do you just feel like eating, and if so, why?