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Eat Late, Put on Weight?

Study Shows Eating at the 'Wrong' Time of Day Could Lead to Weight Gain

'Right' Time vs. 'Wrong' Time continued...

She is hopeful that other researchers will focus on the same concept in human studies. "If it turns out to be a major factor,'' she says of the food timing, ''it will be a great way to help weight maintenance and maybe weight loss. It would be a fairly simple behavior modification, to move the time you are eating."

But night-time eating would be one factor among many contributing to weight gain, Arble tells WebMD. "I don't want people to read this study and think 'Oh, I can eat as much as I want as long as it's the right time of day.'"

Second Opinion

''Eating too much late at night is not good," says Arline D. Salbe, PhD, a senior research fellow at the Kronos Longevity Research Institute in Phoenix, who has also researched and published on the topic.

''In a simple but elegant study design using mice, Arble [and her colleagues] have confirmed our own results in humans that nighttime eating is a risk for weight gain," says Salbe. "As modern lifestyles continue to modify work and sleep patterns, the risk of weight gain from nighttime energy intake becomes more relevant to greater numbers of people," she tells WebMD.

In her own study, Salbe and her colleagues evaluated the food intake of 94 people over a three-day period while they stayed in a clinical research unit and were allowed to eat as much as they wished. They found that 29 were night eaters, defined as those who ate between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. on at least one of the three days; 65 were not night eaters.

When they followed them for nearly 3.5 years, the night eaters gained 13.6 pounds while the non-night eaters gained 3.7.

The nighttime eating, Salbe found, predicted weight gain. Her study is published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Her advice? "I think the healthiest way to maintain weight is to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner," Salbe says. "If dinner is early enough and you stay up late enough, having a snack at 8 or 9 o'clock is perfectly fine." By snack, she says, she means a small amount of food, not an overflowing plate of pasta.

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