How late night eating affects your body

[Photo: Flickr/Not Jane Doe]
[Photo: Flickr/Not Jane Doe]

Studies and speculations linking late night eating to weight gain have been circulating for years, but is it really the one way ticket to obesity it’s made out be?

If you’re anything like me, your daily meals increase in size from breakfast to dinner. Large breakfasts are a weekend luxury, lunch is often swift and functional, which leaves dinner as the one meal I can enjoy in peace. I’m not ashamed to admit I also snack on the sofa in front of Netflix afterwards either. I’m an adult and can make my own decisions.

So does eating late at night make you fat or what?

Well, yes and no. There are a number of contributing factors that could cause weight gain. Our late night eating habits depend on our daytime food consumption. Reaching for sugary drinks and unhealthy snacks between meals causes insulin levels to spike and has a knock-on effect on appetite.

Scientist Dr Christie Wilcox says: “High spikes in insulin lead to dramatic drops in blood glucose, which can cause your body to feel hungry sooner. Insulin actually triggers the storage of fats in adipose tissues, so sustained high levels of insulin promote weight gain.

“Our bodies don’t break down fat while insulin is circulating. This means that if we eat foods with high GIs that produce sustained insulin levels, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot, even if we eat less calories overall.”

So if you’re snacking unhealthily throughout the day, the likelihood is, you’re going to be ravenous by dinner time and stuff your face.

But food cravings aren’t always easy to control. The sensible human side of your brain might want to abstain but the hedonistic monkey side is ten times stronger. Like an obstinate toddler it nags for a sugary ‘reward’, chipping away at your well-intentioned will power. Fortunately there’s a way to lock the little jerk out.

Swapping out unhealthy foods for options low on the glycemic index will leave you feeling fuller for longer. Foods can work in synergy with each so including lean, protein-rich foods such as fish, low fat dairy products, lean meats and pulses can lower the overall GI value of a meal. Selecting wholegrain, high-fibre starchy foods can also help weight loss. Even if you’re not looking to lose weight it’s still healthier anyway. Take that, monkey!

Sleep is another important factor. The stomach takes around three hours to empty itself. Sitting upright helps gravity do it’s work and let us digest effectively. If you lie down on a full stomach you could be at risk of heartburn and acid reflux which could affect the quality of your sleep.

The quality of your sleep will impact on how strongly your body reacts to food. Studies have shown a poor night’s sleep stimulates cravings for high-fat, high-carbohydrate foods. Getting in seven to nine hours good quality slumber could quell the hankering for slaggy snacks.

In first year at uni I had a frustrating teacher; they never prepared their lessons and repeated the same class every term. It was a travesty. However, they had the generosity to impart one piece of wisdom totally unrelated to their field of ‘expertise’. Like a barnacle of regret, it’s stuck with me all these years: “You wouldn’t drive a car from Land’s End to John o’Groats, only to fill the tank once you arrive.”

They’re right of course. I hope this information will save you thousands of pounds on higher education.

Eat, drink (in moderation and between suitable hours) and be merry!

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