How late-night eating can impact health? Events, activities, and trying and work can sometimes make it difficult to eat earlier in the evening so you wind up eating late at night instead. In any case, research shows this may not be the healthiest approach. In fact, Eating dinner later in the evening could contribute to weight gain, and also set you up for potential health impacts like a higher risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. This is what you need to know about what eating late at night means for your health.
What the Research Says
In one study, researchers studied 20 healthy volunteers to see how they metabolized meals eaten at 10 p.m. and 6 p.m. All participants hit the sack at 11 p.m., and researchers found that blood sugar levels were higher with the later dinner, in any event, when the same meal was eaten on a different day at the earlier time.
On average, the peak blood sugar level was about 18% higher, and the amount of fat burned overnight decreased by 10% compared to the earlier dinner. Chronically elevated blood sugar levels have been linked to cardiovascular issues and diabetes in previous studies since they can cause inflammation and affect vascular muscle cells.
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Impact of Eating Later
Although some research has highlighted the benefits of eating an earlier dinner, that doesn’t mean you need to skip a meal assuming your schedule has you running into the evening, says dietitian Emily Tills, RDN, CDN of nutrition coaching firm Nourished with Emily.
“A few meals eaten later in the evening will not have a dramatic effect, it’s more about what you do on a regular basis,” Tills says. “Our bodies appreciate routine, so a better strategy is to begin to eat dinner earlier when you can until you can stick to that every night.”
For example, third-shift workers or those with hectic days may find a later dinner is the only time they have to sit and relax, and it’s important to find enjoyment instead of stress in that meal, believes Tills.
However, on the off chance that you’re interested in losing weight or simply eating earlier to boost health benefits, creating a meal schedule that works better in the long term is usually a matter of shifting gradually over the long run, Tills advises.
A few meals eaten later in the evening will not have a dramatic effect, it’s more about what you do on a regular basis. Our bodies appreciate routine, so a better strategy is to begin to eat dinner earlier than you can until you can stick to that every night. (EMILY TILLS RDN, CDN)
This shift also involves considering your different meals well, Tills adds. For instance, some people overeat at dinner because they’ve skipped lunch or waited too long after lunch to have dinner.
There’s no exact timing for each meal, however, a general rule is to have breakfast soon after waking up, then have lunch four to five hours later, and dinner four to five hours after that. Tills advises playing around with those timeframes to see what works best for you.
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Focus on Consistency
Consistency in an eating schedule can bring numerous benefits, Tills adds, such as allowing you to plan your meals — a tactic the Centers for Disease Control has linked to making healthier food choices. It can also cut down on the kind of frequent grazing that can happen when meals are spaced excessively far apart. That level of snacking can cause an increase in calories while still leaving you feeling hungry.
“Another strategy that’s helpful for creating consistency is to jot down when you eat and track the effect it has in alternate ways, like energy levels, sleep, and mood,” says Kristen Smith, RD, registered dietitian.
Another strategy that’s helpful for creating consistency is to jot down when you eat and track the effect it has in alternate ways, like energy levels, sleep, and mood. (KRISTEN SMITH, RD)
“Linking the timing of your meals to different benefits is often an effective method for maintaining a routine,” she says. “It can keep you on track by letting you see that one beneficial habit influences another, and that’s very motivating.”
For example, you might notice you sleep poorly at whatever point you eat a few hours later than usual — which wouldn’t surprise, according to Hannah Dove, DPT, at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.
“Many people experience digestive issues when they eat late in the evening,” she says. “Not only is the body trying to digest that food when it should zero in on rest, yet you may also experience problems like heartburn and acid reflux simply because of the position of your body. Lying down for a really long time with a full stomach is not ideal.”
Mood, as well, can take a hit when you space out meals excessively far apart. There’s a reason “hangry” is now in the dictionary.
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Like any other strategy around food, it’s important to see tweaks like these as part of a long-term plan that’s based on improving your health. That perspective can guide you toward feeling a sense of self-care, rather than a way to create restrictive eating patterns or feel bad not just about what you eat, yet in addition when you eat it.
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