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Study Says Late Dinners Will Cause Weight Gain
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Study Says Late Dinners Will Cause Weight Gain

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We all know that mindlessly snacking in front of the TV at night probably isn’t doing your waistline any favors. But what happens if you eat a legitimate, healthy meal late into the evening? A recent study out of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine says that eating dinner late changes the way your digestive system metabolizes food, and that could cause weight gain

In this article, we’ll cover why eating late, even if you’re eating healthy food late, could result in unwanted pounds. 

Isn’t it a matter of burning what you eat? 

Convention dictates that burning more calories than you eat will cause you to lose weight. Calories in, calories out, right?

If it were that simple, people could follow identical diets and exercise plans, and all experience the same results. But, we know that weight gain and weight loss is highly individual. What works for you may not work for your hairstylist or your plumber. It’s evident that there’s more going on than just simple addition and subtraction.

Circadian rhythm and food

Your body does different things at different times of the day, and the study found that the way your body processes the food you eat is no exception. Your internal clock has a lot of say in when you should do certain things, like eat and sleep, to maintain homeostasis.

The problem comes in when the postprandial period, which is the period of digestion following a meal, crosses into the early phases of sleep. The researchers found that late eaters had higher blood glucose after their last meal of the day, as well as lower fatty acid oxidation (read: fat burning) which could cause weight gain. 

Participants who ate late also had higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels, and chronic high cortisol over time can cause your metabolism to slow down.

Plus, you eat differently when it’s late:

Studies show that when you’re tired, your food choices aren’t as smart, especially when you’re eating late because you’re stressed

Circadian rhythm involves more than just sleep

Study Says Late Dinners Will Cause Weight Gain

Most people think circadian rhythm refers to your internal sleep clock, and yes, your circadian rhythm does regulate sleep. But your body is cyclical in so many other ways, like:

These don’t even scratch the surface. Circadian rhythm may also have a role in highly specific processes, like what time of day sun exposure is more likely to damage skin cells.

When your body is digesting during the time that is reserved for making hormones, cleaning out dead cells, and stitching up damaged DNA, these processes slow down. It’s our job to give your body the time it needs to undergo necessary nighttime processes.

Weight and intermittent fasting

Study Says Late Dinners Will Cause Weight Gain

More recently, people have been experimenting with intermittent fasting, which involves eating all of your calories for the day within a shortened window of time. There are lots of ways to do it. Some people eat one meal a day, others will eat within a six-, eight-, or twelve-hour span of time.

The idea behind intermittent fasting is that it gives your body a longer break from digesting all day. Depending on what you eat, active digestion can take a few hours or all day. Eating three meals and snacks every day means your only break is at night. Intermittent fasting lengthens the time that your body doesn’t have to deal with food.

With intermittent fasting, the energy you would normally spend on digestion diverts to other body processes, including cell cleaning and repair. More time for cell maintenance could mean more youthful cells, which may lead to a more youthful appearance and resistance to disease. Author of Genius Foods Max Lugavere claims that when you sleep, your brain acts like a dishwasher

Decreased inflammation is another benefit, and if you’re retaining fluid from inflammation, you may notice weight loss with intermittent fasting.

If you’re eating late and digesting when you’re sleeping, your body’s maintenance and repair part of the day gets cut short.

What time should you stop eating for the day?

How late is too late? That varies from person to person, and it largely depends on your bedtime. 6:00 pm is fine if you’re going to bed at 11:00 pm, but if you hit the hay by 8:00, you may want to bump your dinner earlier. This would also apply to night shift workers whose bedtimes fall within the daytime hours. It’s a good idea to leave a decent cushion between your last meal and bedtime. 

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