Does It Matter How Late We Eat?

woman late night snack

Some may reason that it shouldn’t matter how late we eat just as long as the calories we consume are within range of what our bodies need. However, eating late affects the body in a different way than eating a larger meal at mid-day. Calories that are consumed at night are usually not processed as efficiently as those during the day.

Think about it, unless you work the night shift, most people’s activities wind down as the day does. Settling in after dinner isn’t uncommon. Unfortunately, if we lie down after a huge meal, it can be a strain and lead to a feeling of lethargy in the morning. Disrupted sleep is also common when the body is working hard to digest what was eaten recently.

Meat takes longer than any other food item to digest. I recommend avoiding eating meat late at night, as it tends to stay in the digestive tract longer than grains, fruits, or vegetables.

Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine believe the late evening and early morning hours are the time for cleansing and healing the body from the day before.

If we are using the body’s energy to digest food (which should have occurred during the active day-time hours), we are not giving the body that precious cleansing time that it needs to help fight off disease, as well as help heal ourselves naturally.

Research Into Late Night Eating

Studies by Dr. Louis J. Aronne, director of a weight control program for the Weill Cornell Medical Center, have shown that people who eat late, eat more than they would during a day-time meal [1].

Furthermore, these studies found a link between larger evening meals and an increase in triglyceride levels associated with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and overall weight gain [2].

eating late

When triglyceride levels are high, our body thinks it needs to store fat from excessive night-time eating for later use. Eating large meals at night, in essence, informs the body that there will be a shortage of food soon and it should store fat!

Some people find they are able to eat healthy meals during the day, but crave sweets and heavier foods at night. Often times this involves an emotional component to eating, perhaps even a minor one. Are you stressed? Exhausted? What emotional comfort are you seeking from large amounts of late night food? Try taking a warm bath with essential oils to comfort yourself.

Tips to Avoid Eating Late At Night

  • Eat a moderate breakfast and a heavier lunch.
  • Have a larger dinner before 6 PM.
  • When you feel like eating late at night, drink a cup of warm lemon water or an herbal tea with raw honey. Hot liquids are soothing and warming.
  • If eating late is a habit of yours, you will have to break that habit. Start by reducing your portion sizes and choosing healthier meals.
  • Trade in junk food, white sugar, processes foods and white flour for whole grains, soups, fruits and vegetables.
  • Brush your teeth earlier! It may sound too simple, but some people find that if they just brush their teeth, they are less likely to indulge in late-night eating patterns.
  • Turn off the TV. Studies have shown that television can subconsciously trigger desires for more food.
  • Take a warm bath. Turn on some soothing music. Read a book. Create new night-time rituals that don’t involve heavy eating.
  • Go on a brisk walk after dinner. Ayurvedic medicine says that we should eat no later than six o’ clock, and afterwards take a walk of at least 108 steps!

These are just some tips; please share your methods in the comments below!

- Dr. Edward F. Group III, DC, ND, DACBN, DCBCN, DABFM

References:

  1. C. Claiborne Ray. Where do those late-night calories go? Chicago Tribune. 2008 March 04.
  2. C. Claiborne Ray. Midnight meals. The New York Times. 2008 February 26.

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This entry was posted in Food

  • C. Brugnolotti

    i have actually heard from diet experts that say that it doesn’t matter what time you eat.

  • Health Tips blog

    very good article

  • Cynthia

    I just would like to comment my opinion on why we like eating junk food late at night. It is because that’s when the worms want to come out and eat!!! (smile) And we all know that their favorite is foods laden with sugar. So I suggest a good cleanse with Paratrex, and this problem will eventually be controlled.

  • Natural Remedies

    I couldn’t agree more. Historically humans have eaten large breakfasts, large midday meals, and less at night. Doctors who research our natural body clocks have found that our bodies processes, including insulin production, function well during the day and early evening. By 8pm, they have slowed so much that digestion is impared.

  • Dale Kaup

    Show me one scientific study that shows it’s not good to eat late.

    I prefer to say that I eat breakfast then lay down for a 7 hour nap.

  • Jen Diggity

    Our bodies do a bulk of our digesting and assimilating while we sleep. A big breakfast is retarded. Digestion takes energy. When you’ve just gotten done storing up energy fromt he food you ate during the day and you’re well rested why are you going to bog your body down with more food to digest? Don’t do it. Eat lightly in the morning and eat your big meal at the end of the day.

  • Terry Nicholls

    The first time I ever heard about the dangers of eating late at night was when I read a book called “Fit For Life”. If stated that the body has certain cycles and, between 8pm and 4am, is it’s main processing time. Also, it stated that we shouldn’t eat a heavy breakfast, instead recommending only fruits before noon. Quite an interesting book.

  • Rodmwa

    I would prefer to eat like a king in the morning, queen at lunch and pauper or nil supper. This makes someone wake up with energy in the morning. Eating late is not a good idea.

  • Kurt

    I have definitely found that eating late causes fat gain, even with a heavy workout routine at the gym 5 days a week with weight training. By eating late, I mean within 3 hours of bedtime. Ideally, if you’re training and have a good appetite, have a small snack of something low GI such as yoghurt 3 hours before you sleep and this will be much better. A high GI snack late at night is like a double whammy.

  • Steven

    “Well I think we all know by now how wrong the information provided by our modern medical system can be. We currently have more digestive and health problems than anytime in recorded history!”

    Right—because you can’t record a health problem you don’t know you have! We have “more digestive and health problems than anytime in recorded history” because we know more now about how our digestive system works than we ever have, at any time in recorded history. We can’t say how many people suffered from digestive problems throughout time because throughout most of time people had no idea what was happening to their own bodies!

  • Prashant Sharma

    respected doctors i would like to share my experience with late eating ,sir i used to take a heavy dinner and because of which i had flab,hairloss,stress,sleepless nights but now i take heavy breakfast and lunch and just eat 2 chapatis with green vegetables with gravy u wont believe that my flab is reducing my hair is getting thicker and i will more energetic .plz share some more tips for late night eating

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  • http://www.facebook.com/pjfeola Peter Feola

    This is utter nonsense – I work out 3 to 4 times per week usually after 8 PM I am 58 years old, 5’9″ – 174 lbs , run 4-5 miles every other day averaging a little over 7 minutes per mile – I’m in excellent physical condition, strong auto immune system, low blood pressure, heart rate of 62 b/min – I’ve been eating dinner between 10-11 PM for the last 5 years and I sleep like a baby.

  • Bob the Second

    Let’s deconstruct this article logically.

    1. Both references cite the same person, one Dr Aronne. He says the same things in both articles and doesn’t cite any real studies for his statements.

    2. Dr Aronne does not have a strong basis for his statement. He says that “my clinical impression is that people who eat late at night eat more”. What exactly is a “clinical impression” and is it statistically viable? Seems to me that it is purely anecdotal.

    3. Therefore the point really should be:

    a. Don’t eat junk food that has lots of empty calories, and

    b. Don’t eat more than you’ll usually eat even when you’re eating late.

    4. The concepts of “lack of good digestion” and “weight gain” are used almost synonymously. They should not, because they are not the same. If fact, one might argue that good digestion means fully digesting your meal, which results in more calories being absorbed, therefore leading to weight gain.

    5. The argument that “eating late means calories go straight to storage in the fat cells” is invalid. You cannot isolate it to just one day. What if I ate a big bowl of pasta, went to bed, then woke up at 6am to run a marathon? What if I did that everyday? Will that still cause weight gain?

    6. Everyone burns calories all of the time, whether sleeping or awake. The rate of calorie burn is dependent on activity level and muscle mass. If you slept all day and ate nothing, I guarantee that you will lose weight. Why else do you think patients in comas waste away?

    7. Citations of the beliefs of Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine are logically invalid. These traditional systems have not been clinically validated and therefore cannot and should not be used to substantiate an argument.

    8. My point being: there are only two significant variables in the weight loss/gain equation.

    If calories out > calories in, there will be weight loss.

    If calories in > calories out, there will be weight gain.

    Reduce calories in by not eating junk food and avoiding sugar and fat.

    Increase calories out by exercising more and increasing calorie output throughout the day e.g. walk instead of taking the bus, or take the stairs instead of the elevator.

    QED.

  • grevyturty

    Only calories matter. It’s an absurd, unsupportable claim that eating late is different than eating early. More fake Dr. nonsense

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