Not Just What You Eat, When You Eat Matters
You are What You Eat–and When!
Can Meal Timing Help you to Lose Fat?
For better or for worse, our nutrition has changed a lot since the first humans roamed this earth. We now have constant access to food and more reasons to eat than ever: birthday celebrations, holidays, business meetings, getaway vacations, Taco Tuesdays, hangovers, your jerk boss, your annoying kids…you get the picture. Particularly in North America, there is always reason and opportunity to eat. We love to snack, and it’s easy to find yourself eating all day.
Some recent studies have found that the timing of food plays a large part in our weight and health; many experts argue that when we eat is almost as important as what we eat.
Late-Night Snacking Takes its Toll
One study looked at the effects of sleep restriction on meal timing, caloric intake, and weight gain on a cohort of healthy adults. They found that those adults who went to bed later and slept for only four hours, as opposed to the control group who slept eight hours, from 10 pm to 6 am, ate more late-night calories and gained more weight. The researchers concluded that the observed weight gain was due to the consumption of more meals, and that people were more likely to eat more high-fat and calorie-dense foods at night, when the metabolism is typically at its slowest.
Similarly, another study found that “eating more frequently, later timing of the last meal, and a shorter duration between last meal and sleep onset predicted higher total caloric intake”. This goes against the oft-stated recommendation of “eat frequent meals to keep your metabolism high”. According to this study, you can safely bet that eating all day won’t help you lose weight. And it may increase your risk of metabolic disease!
The Science Behind Food Timing
We know that food timing affects the way we metabolize food. Numerous studies have looked at the relationship between our circadian rhythms and our weight, and many have found that, even when caloric intake is the same, eating at the ‘wrong’ times can lead to accelerated fat gain.
But how does this happen? Late eating, one study found, in comparison with early eating, “is associated with decreased resting-energy expenditure, decreased fasting carbohydrate oxidation, decreased glucose tolerance, blunted daily profile in free cortisol concentrations and decreased thermal effect of food on [body temperature].” All of this, translated, means that, later in the day, your body is much less effective at turning your food into usable fuel. And if your food doesn’t get turned into fuel, it gets turned into–yep, you guessed it–fat. Late at night, your body ‘slows down’ its metabolism to prepare for sleep. Getting enough calories to keep you moving isn’t high on your metabolism’s agenda–which is unfortunate for those people who do shift work or who have to stay up late for other reasons (unless your goal is fat gain).
So, what can you do to prevent the undesirable effects of eating late at night?
- If you have to eat at night, you may want to consider a food journal or food-tracking app to ensure that you’re not eating excess calories.
- Otherwise, restrict your eating to earlier in the day and stop eating two hours before you go to bed.
- If you exercise (and you should exercise), eat your non-fruit-and-vegetable carbohydrates around that time, as added sugars and refined carbohydrates tend to elevate your insulin.
Wishing you all the best on your journey to optimum health!
Written by Theresa Faulder, Master’s in English, Certified Personal Trainer and Infofit fitness blog writer.
Arble, D. M., Bass, J., Laposky, A. D., Vitaterna, M. H., & Turek, F. W. (2009). Circadian Timing of Food Intake Contributes to Weight Gain. Obesity, 17(11), 2100-2102. doi:10.1038/oby.2009.264
Glucose metabolism is impacted by timing of food intake during simulated night shift. (2018). Journal of Sleep Research,27. doi:10.1111/jsr.46_12766
Reid, K. J., Baron, K. G., & Zee, P. C. (2014). Meal timing influences daily caloric intake in healthy adults. Nutrition Research, 34(11), 930-935. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.09.010
Spaeth, A. M., Dinges, D. F., & Goel, N. (2013). Effects of Experimental Sleep Restriction on Weight Gain, Caloric Intake, and Meal Timing in Healthy Adults. Sleep, 36(7), 981-990. doi:10.5665/sleep.2792