Sunday, 5 May 2013

Weight Gain and Evening Food Cravings

Our body's internal clock, or circadian rhythm, increases our desire for sweet, salty and starchy foods in the late evening, according to some recent research. The researchers suggest that in our early history when getting enough food may have been a challenge, gathering and eating food just before bedtime may have helped our survival. Today, when many of us eat enough food during the day, the extra calorie intake before bedtime can lead to weight gain.

Several countries are experiencing an "obesity epidemic" at the moment. Dr. Steven Shea at the Oregon Health and Science University says that people who eat a lot in the evening are more likely to be overweight or obese. This is especially true if the evening snacks consist of high-calorie foods.

Snacking in the evening can contribute to weight gain.
Photo by clarita at
Why does eating food in the late evening contribute more to weight gain that food eaten during the day? One reason is that there is less time to move around or exercise before bedtime. Physical activity burns calories. In addition, scientists have found that our bodies deal with food types such as sugar differently in the evening than during the daytime.

Another factor that can contribute to weight gain in the modern world is indoor lighting. We stay up later than our ancestors because we have good lighting that allows life to go on as normal. We're not encouraged to go to bed by lack of light. Staying up late is a problem because it gives us more time to eat and also because lack of sleep contributes to weight gain.

Some people are reluctant to eat breakfast, which usually means that they have to eat more food later in the day to compensate for the low calorie intake in the morning. Interestingly, avoiding breakfast and eating heavy meals later in the day is what Sumo wrestlers do to gain weight.

So how can we outwit our body's clock? Tips include:
  • Eat larger meals or higher calorie foods earlier in the day instead of close to bedtime.
  • Always try to eat something for breakfast, even if this is a light meal.
  • If the urge to eat in the late evening is strong, make sure that the snack is tasty but low in calories.
  • Go to bed earlier.
  • Get a good night's sleep.
Dr. Shea's research results can be read at the Oregon Health and Science University website.