Each week we’ll be pulling out one of your emails from our mail bag and featuring them here. Feel free to submit as many questions as you would like. All questions having to do with Nutrition, Weight Loss and Obesity-related health conditions are fair game.
Can you put an argument I’m having with my sister to rest. I believe that eating late at night can make you fat. She says that it doesn’t matter. Who is right?"
- Susan, Pasadena, California
I’m afraid she’s right. The “eating late at night leads to weight gain” myth has been busted. The idea that people gain weight from eating late at night seemed to make sense. Digestion slows while we’re sleeping. As a result, food tends to stay longer within our digestive tract. Why wouldn’t this lead to weight gain? Well, this is where science trumps commonly held beliefs. It was also long believed that coffee caused people’s blood pressure to rise. In fact, caffeine is a stimulant that does not cause long term blood pressure elevation. However, a central nervous system depressant, alcohol, does cause blood pressure elevation.
So a number of studies have looked at the effects of meal timing and weight gain. In 1996, a Swedish study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at normal weight and obese individuals. The study compared eating patterns between both groups. The eating patterns of obese and normal weight individuals were not found to be any different. Both groups were found to have periodic nighttime eating binges. This was confirmed in a 2007 study of more than 2500 patients.
Although nighttime eating does not appear to affect weight gain, eating patterns can influence weight. A 2003 study out of Europe found that people who skip breakfast are more likely to gain weight. This is primarily because people who eat breakfast tend to take in more calories throughout the day. An analysis of caloric intake between those who do and do not skip breakfast showed that those who skipped breakfast took in considerably more calories per meal.
So Susan, eating at night is not as bad as we had previously thought. No studies have shown that eating at night leads to weight gain. As long as the number of calories stays consistent, you will not gain weight from late night eating. But please remember that skipping breakfast, or skipping any meal for that matter, can lead to weight problems.
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