Supper, a bad idea?

Today is the first day of Ramadan where I am struggling to nap right after I eat my meal (sahur) in the wee morning. Unlike my brother who tends to lose weight during the fasting month, I tend to gain weight. Needless to say, we had different activity levels in a sense where I will sleep right after buka while he will exercise before and after breaking fast.  

As I lie down on the bed, I contemplate how my body will process the food and whether my water intake is sufficient for the whole day. One of the many worries on my mind is how I might gain weight when (buka) eating later than the usual particular time.

One common suggestion online is to not eat after 8pm, but how reliable is the advice though?

If one believes in calorie deficit, shouldn’t this information be misleading. In reality, what you eat is much more important than when you eat.

This article separates fact from fiction when it comes to late-night eating and weight gain.

Consumption of calories depends on time of the day

The idea that eating at night makes you gain weight stems from research studies on animals, which focused on the hypothesis that the body may use consumed calories differently past a certain time of day.

Some researchers suggest that eating at night goes against your circadian rhythm, which is the 24-hour cycle that tells your body when to sleep, eat and wake.

According to your circadian rhythm, night time is for resting, not eating. Unmistakable, several animal examples support this theory such as mice but not all studies in humans support this notion. In conclusion, research has stated that for humans in general, it is not necessarily the time you eat, but how much you eat that matters For example, a study in over 1600 children found no link between eating dinner past 8 p.m. and excess weight. In this study, late eaters did not appear to consume more total calories. 

Overall, you gain weight when your total calorie intake is higher than your daily needs. This instance does not happen merely as a result of eating at night. So why do those eating at night gain more weight? The only rational explanation for the correlation between eating at night and weight gain is the tendency for late eaters to eat more calories overall.

Thus, eating at night may lead to weight gain only if you eat a surplus of calories.

Supper Food Choices

Besides consuming more food, late eaters often skip meals in the afternoon, hence get hungrier and make poorer food choices due to the limited access to healthy food and exposure to convenience food that are way higher in calories as well.

At night, you may be more likely to choose unhealthy, calorie-dense foods. These are foods with little nutritional value, such as chips, soda and ice cream. People who work night shifts are a good example as they tend to snack on unhealthy foods for convenience, as there may be a lack of healthy options available in the workplace at night.

Another factor that could influence you to consume food in the middle of the night is emotional eating. The individuals who struggle in discerning between true hunger and eating due to stress, anxiety, boredom or sadness may use food as a gateway to unleash their emotions. This is also backed by the study that states that tiredness has been linked to increased food intake and a desire for high-calorie foods. This may be due to hormonal changes that influence appetite during sleep deprivation. 

If you’re truly hungry after dinner, consider choosing nutrient-dense foods and beverages. These are lower-calorie foods with high nutritional value.

Some great options include:

  • Carrot and celery sticks with hummus
  • Apple slices with a small portion of your favorite nut butter
  • Plain air-popped popcorn
  • A handful of frozen grapes
Meal Timing and Frequency

Though calorie counting is the ultimate guide that affects your weight, there are ways to regulate your appetite through meal timing and frequency.

  1. Eating a higher-calorie breakfast may keep you fuller longer and possibly prevent overeating at night. In one study, people eating a 600-calorie breakfast had lower appetites and significantly fewer cravings during the day than those eating 300 calorie for breakfast. The cravings for sweets were reduced 
  2. Keep in mind that breakfast may not be necessary if you eat late at night. Follow your hunger cues and eat your first meal later than usual.
  1. Eating smaller meals but more frequently throughout the day to manage your appetite and lessen feelings of hunger throughout the day (18

Therefore, changing your meal timing and frequency may be a strategy to reduce overall calorie intake by managing hunger.Appetite and cravings may be managed by eating more calories earlier in the day and by eating small and frequent meals. These strategies may prevent overeating at night.

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