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Advice for Dieters

“Many of our patients struggle with night eating,” says Elisabetta Politi, RD, nutrition director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C.

People who have trouble sleeping go for longer stretches of time between their dinnertime and their bedtime than people who sleep well. That often means they get hungry late at night. When they eat late, they’re not as hungry for breakfast in the morning.

“It creates a vicious cycle that I really feel promotes weight gain,” says Politi, who was not involved in the research.

Still, she says, there are many unanswered questions about why late eating may lead to weight gain.

In some European countries, for example, it is customary to eat dinner at later hours, which doesn’t seem to contribute to higher rates of obesity in those countries.

Still, she says, for people trying to lose weight, it probably wouldn’t hurt to curb nighttime eating. Though she says it needn’t be a rule that is militantly observed.

“It makes perfect sense to eat more when you are more physically active. You burn off the calories you eat,” Politi says, “But at the same time, we don’t want people to feel that if they eat something healthy at 10 p.m., it is going to lead to weight gain.”

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary because they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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