Put the Brakes on Nighttime Overeating
For many, nighttime is the right time to overeat
When is the absolute worst time to overeat, metabolically speaking? Many
experts agree that it's nighttime, when our bodies have the lowest need for
Yet "in America, we eat more during dinner than any other meal,"
says U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Shanthy Bowman, PhD.
This is especially true for those of us who are overweight, according to a
recent national USDA survey. It found that overweight adults tended to eat
significantly more calories than normal-weight adults at dinnertime (while
eating just a few more calories at breakfast and lunch).
Dinner isn't the only problem, either. While afternoon is the most popular
time to snack, evening snacks are in the No. 2 position. According to a recent
study from the University of Texas at El Paso, snacking at night makes it all
too easy to overeat. That's because eating late in the day may be less
satisfying than eating the same amount of food earlier in the day.
"Intake in the late night lacks satiating value and can result in
greater overall daily intake" of calories, says the study's lead
researcher, John de Castro, PhD, chairman of the psychology department at the
University of Texas at El Paso.
Facts About Evening Eating
Over the years, De Castro's research into meal sizes, meal patterns, and
calorie distribution has turned up some other findings about evening
- Meal size tends to increase over the day, with peaks at lunch and dinner.
One study showed that participants ate 42% of their total daily calories during
and after dinner.
- Our evening food intake tends to be relatively high in fat, compared to
that at earlier meals.
- The longer the gap between dinner and the previous meal or snack, the
larger the dinner. Interestingly, the gap between meals is a significant
predictor of meal size for dinner only.
- People who eat lightly at night end up eating fewer calories and grams of
fat overall than people who eat big dinners and nighttime snacks. According to
the results of one study, people who had a light snack at night ate 9.3% fewer
total calories and 10% less fat overall than those who ate larger nighttime
Obesity expert Edward Saltzman, MD, thinks the real problem is not so much
that we burn fewer calories at night, but that nighttime eating tends to result
from unhealthy meal patterns. The three types of meal-pattern problems Saltzman
sees most often are:
- People don't eat during the day and then become ravenous and overeat at
night. "If people wonder why they aren't hungry in the morning, it could be
because they ate too much the night before," explains Saltzman, an energy
metabolism scientist with the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center
on Aging at Tufts University.
- Food is used for all sorts of emotional reasons at the end of a workday (as
a relaxant, as entertainment, as a distraction, etc.)
- Eating becomes associated with sedentary behavior, like watching
television. In other words, we get into a pattern of eating while we watch TV
or use a computer -- activities many of us tend to do in the evening.