Does eating late make you fat?

Let’s face it, a large majority of college students like to eat, there’s no doubt about that. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s because of how accessible food is. We can always find an open restaurant, order anything we want online, have it delivered to our doors, and pay for it with the swipe of a dnews--1533--why-midnight-snacks-are-terrible-for-you--large.thumbcard. Food is available at all hours of every day and college students take advantage of the opportunity. As we do this, we normally feel guilty afterward because on some level–whether it be conscious or subconscious–we know that this isn’t healthy, but how unhealthy is it exactly? In the long run, will eating late at night make you gain weight faster than eating during the day?

Well, as much as we want an answer to that question, there just might not be one. However, I’ll approach that in more detail later. First, I want to talk a little bit about the metabolism. According to several sources–such as this one and this one–the “body doesn’t process food differently at different times of the day” because “a calorie is a calorie, regardless of when you burn it.” When we think about this, it makes perfect sense, right? Our body is going to process food the same way, even when we’re winding down for the night because, although we’re done being active, our internal organs are still functioning which, in turn, is burning calories. This is basic high school health class knowledge, weight gain occurs depending on caloric intake and activity levels (excluding disease and genetics), and there are studies which go along with and backup this idea.

For example, one study conducted at the Oregon Health and Science University, highlighted in this Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center article, used rhesus monkeys to test the hypothesis of eating late leading to weight gain. The results showed that the monkeys who ate later were “at no greater risk” than the monkeys who ate earlier in the day. This result is also consistent with the beliefs of the credible National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease discussed in the same article as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Weight Control Information Network which is mentioned in this article. Both of these sources support my aforementioned claim–that it’s daily and long-term eating and activity which determines weight gain, not the specific time you consume calories.

There are some studies which claim otherwise. According to Northwestern University researchers who conducted a study that was published in the journal Obesity, “eating at night led to twice as much weight gain. This result, however, was determined by one trial which observed mice (source). Meanwhile, another study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN) concluded that “nighttime eating was common, and it predicted weight gain,” but there were many factors to consider in this study which could lead to confounding variables. For example, The AJCN’s study was not randomized, it used white people and Pima Indians as well as observed them as inpatients in a research unit; not in a normal everyday environment.

So with that in mind, it is safe to say that the answer to the question “does eating late make you fat?” is inconclusive, but I may be able to provide some insight on why people think it does. You see, despite the fact that every study differed, many of them still managed to agree on one thing: the things people were eating as “midnight snacks.” In all of the sources I mentioned above, as well as this one, it was a common claim that the reason why it seemed people were gaining weight after eating later in the evening was because they were consuming high-caloriemidnight-snack foods. People tend to not only lack self-control and intake when they eat later, but they are also more inclined to reach for quick and easy snacks, and if you didn’t know already, quick and easy snacks tend to be higher in calories. I’m sure the light bulb just went off in all of your heads like it did mine, and as much as I’d like to go into this topic more, it’s going to have to wait until next time as this is getting quite lengthy. Look out for my next post though, because I plan on giving a more thorough examination of the question: Why do we crave junk food at night? Stay tuned.

7 thoughts on “Does eating late make you fat?

  1. Briana Michelle Wright

    I find this to be interesting because we are taught that eating after a certain time develops fat overnight. I never thought that your organs are what’s burning the calories, but I would think that being up and moving burns them faster and essentially it comes down to WHAT you are eating so I will be on the look out for your next blog.

  2. Anastasia Skold

    I think that this article can both grab the attention of many of us here at Penn State along with bringing awareness to what we are eating and when. Like you said in your blog, it mainly depends on what you’re eating at night, which is usually junk food. This article done by theUniversity of Massachusetts
    says that our bodies are constantly burning calories regardless of when we eat.

  3. das5959

    I liked reading this post because I came into reading it with a different mindset. I always assumed eating late at night is bad for you and leads to weight gain. What if it’s a third variable leading to the weight gain? Generally when you eat late at night you never seem to be full, and as you said, lack self control. This could cause you to simply eat more calories, which you don’t burn because of sleeping. But, what causes you to eat late at night? It could be stress, which leads to your body storing more calories for the long run instead of burning them. Telegraph. I know that this is related to mostly woman’s health, and is not a scholarly source, but makes you wonder.

  4. Julia Hall

    This article caught my attention because I was always told not to eat after 8pm because your metabolism and other body functions become slower because you are not as active. I agree that connection between late-night eating and weight gain depends on what exactly you eat. If someone eats a 1/2 cup of blueberries there is not way that they are gonna gain more weight than those who eat 1 or 2 slices of pizza late at night.

  5. Kelly Elizabeth Bare

    This post definitely sparked an interest in me because since I have come to college I have been eating more after 9pm than I ever have! At home, my mom is a health nut, and she always says not to eat anything after 9pm because it will make you gain weight more easily. When you said that people tend to eat higher calorie foods at night, that definitely is true. As far as your next blog post that you plan on writing, about why we crave unhealthy foods at night, my hypothesis would be that it is because subconsciously we think that we can go to bed right after, and those calories will just “magically” go away. Or, maybe we think that we will definitely find the motivation to work out the next day because of the unhealthy food you are eating that night.

  6. Alexandra Herr

    My hypothesis for the question of whether eating late makes you fatter quicker is a hard yes, and here is why. Usually when someone is eating at, say, 12:30AM it isn’t because they skipped dinner or lunch or breakfast. This food could be considered a fourth meal of the day, meaning approximately 25% more calories than necessary. Despite the food or degree of healthiness, this food isn’t necessary for survival or really providing any needed nutrients at all, so it’s just an added nuisance. I’m not saying that I won’t continue to eat past midnight or stop going to LateNight in Redifer. I’m just saying this is what makes the most logical sense. Also, if you eat dinner early when you aren’t too hungry yet, you will probably start to feel hungry around this late time, so try to avoid eating it too early if you want to avoid the consequences.

  7. Katherine Alexandra Bartkowski

    But wouldn’t it make sense that if you eat a lot of food then go to sleep and are just sitting there, the amount of calories getting burned off isn’t the same as if you ate that food at noon and then went about your day, running errands and working and stuff. I understand that our organs are still functioning when we are laying there or sleeping, but they can’t possibly be working hard enough to burn as many calories as we would during the day running around.

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