Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain?

Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain

Eating late at night is a topic that nutritionist and doctors often avoid discussing. But why is this topic so controversial? Are there enough studies and research that can provide an answer to the question Does eating late at night cause weight gain? Let’s see.

During winter time, a human body goes through changes. Cooler temperatures combined with less exposure to sunlight and spending more time indoors have an impact on your whole system. Not only that, but colder weather can also affect your eating patterns and habits.

Yes, that’s right.

Spending more time at home contributes to the need to eat more, especially the need to choose high-calorie foods. As you might have noticed, your late night journeys to the kitchen become more frequent. Additionally, you may find yourself having trouble watching Netflix without holding some delicious munchie in your lap. No wonder winter is the one season when everybody puts on a few extra pounds.

So, if you are trying to lose a bit of that extra weight, there is one thing you have to ask yourself: does eating late at night cause you to gain weight?

Although we are not a team of nutritionists, we are going to try our best to help you find an answer to this question. We are going to provide you with information from several studies and experts’ opinions. This information should help you transition to a healthier lifestyle.

Without further ado, let’s begin!


Fact No. 1: Your Body Has Its Own Rhythm

Body Rhythm

Before we provide you with an answer to the question of whether eating late at night causes weight gain, we first need to share with you some information about how your body works.

Try to think of your body as a clock. A clock that works 24 hours, 365 days a year, for a number of years. There is no “break” in this cycle.

So, to make sure your body functions properly, your whole system puts in an effort and adjusts to the 24-hour cycle. In this process, it also adapts to environmental changes such as the change of seasons. This 24-hour cycle is known as the circadian rhythm. From the medical point of view, the circadian rhythm is a pattern of brain wave activity, cell regeneration and other biological processes. In short, it is thanks to this rhythm that your body “knows” when it is the time to go to bed, eat and satisfy any other basic human needs such as needs for water, sex, security and safety.


Fact No. 2: Eating Late at Night Makes You Consume More Calories

Even if you are not convinced in the importance of the circadian rhythm for your body’s cycles of regeneration, there is one thing you will definitely start to believe – late-night eaters tend to eat more calories per day.

How is this possible?

Well, in a 2008 study, participants who were late night eaters consumed up to 500 calories more than the ones who ate only during the day. The results showed that eating late at night led to a weight gain of up to 10 pounds.

However, we are not just going to focus on the numbers provided by one study. What you should also keep in mind is the food choice you tend to make when your hand is reaching for the fridge late at night.

If you are a late night eater yourself, then you know that you usually don’t make the healthiest food choices nor do you look for a yummy, low-calorie, light night snack. Instead, you most commonly opt for high-calorie fast food. No wonder there is a saying that the decisions you make today affect the outcomes of tomorrow!


Fact No. 3: Being Hungry Is Not the Same as  Craving Food

water for hunger

Stop for a minute and ask yourself whether your pre-bedtime hunger is indeed hunger or just a habit you have trouble getting get rid of. Think about the cause of your so-called hunger.

Why did we encourage to think about your late night eating habits? Well, because if you are not experiencing any physical signs of being hungry, you are probably just craving for some late night, high-calorie meal.

How can you determine whether you are starving or not? For starters, if you feel your stomach growling and you are experiencing the slightest pain in the gut, it might be the time for your next meal. But, don’t let the growling fool you – before you run off to the kitchen to get a snack, try to think about the last time you ate.

An average human being gets hungry every 3-5 hours. So, if you feel ”hunger” after an hour or two, it might be the time to have a healthy snack or drink a glass of water since you are not physically experiencing any lust for food. As WebMD suggests, if you feel full after a glass of water, you were probably not that hungry, to begin with.


Hunger as a Symptom of a Behavioral Syndrome

After reading all the mentioned tips on how to determine whether you are starving or not, you might be wondering why you are questioning such a simple process like being hungry.

The reason is simple – eating late at night is considered to be a syndrome, that results in behavioral consequences and is usually caused by some emotional distress.

Let us explain.


Night Eating Syndrome

Eating late at night is, most commonly, more than a habit. It is considered to be a syndrome, a Night Eating Syndrome (NES), to be exact, which is included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. This acknowledgment serves as proof that eating late at night is one of the symptoms of stress, anxiety, or other psychological or mental problems and disorders. This means that, in most cases, when you reach out for food late at night, your “hunger” is probably triggered by emotions and unresolved psychological issues.

Is Night Eating Syndrome something you should worry about? Not exactly, as long as you recognize its existence and find a way to manage your emotions.

The first step on your “path to healing” is to recognize the problem. Recognize the fact that you are not truly hungry and that you use food as a source of comfort.

The second step would be to find the roots of your so-called hunger. What was the “trigger that put you off”? Was it a rough day at work? What made you feel stressed or nervous? Try to “talk to yourself” and discover which emotions you are trying to drown in food.

Once you find the cause of the false hunger symptom, you can do some 5- to 10-minute meditation. Meditating will help you relax your mind and body. If this process seems overwhelming, our advice is to get professional help and find someone you can talk to about the issue you are experiencing.

Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain

Bonus tip: If you want to start practicing meditation regularly, check out one of our articles on how to start meditating.

Once you get to the bottom of why you are “feeling hungry”, you could keep yourself occupied instead of reaching out for more food. You could:

  • start reading a book,
  • do some house cleaning,
  • exercise,
  • rearrange books on shelves,
  • make lemonade or
  • do whatever relaxes your mind and cheers you up.

It’s that simple.


What If You Are Really Hungry?

If you are not an emotional eater, and if you haven’t had a proper meal throughout the day, it may be the time to eat something. Even if it’s 11 p.m.

Now, you might be wondering isn’t it unhealthy to eat that late? The truth is, it all depends on your habits.

Eating late at night can help you sleep and stabilize your morning blood sugar. That is why you need to be careful with what you put in your body.

Our advice would be to opt for some healthy, well-balanced dish that contains carbs, proteins and a bit of fat. Try to avoid sweets and junk food at any rate, as they are full of unhealthy fats and added sugars.


Fact No. 4: If Your Dinner Is Not Nutritious Enough, You Can Experience Late Night Hunger

Healthy Salad - Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain

If you are positive that you are not “eating your emotions”, it might be a good idea to think about what you ate for dinner and whether this meal was nutritious enough. Perhaps the reason you are eating late at night is that you don’t take in enough nutrients at dinner. So, if you are eating a low-calorie soup or just a salad as your last meal of the day, chances are you won’t be full until 11 p.m.


Ideal Combination of Food for Dinner

So, how can you make sure you are getting enough vitamins, proteins, fibers, and fats?

Well, the ideal combination of food for dinner consists of vegetables and proteins (eggs, chicken, and seafood). If you want, you can include some healthy fats, like avocado, as well. High-fat foods are, believe it or not, one of the three food groups you are probably not eating, but should. Healthy fats, such as avocado, are full of vitamins and fibers that contribute to the proper function of your metabolic system.

Bonus tip: If you have a sweet tooth, eat the dessert before dinner. Yes, you have read that, right! According to a post on, Ashley Koff, a nutritionist, mentioned that it is always a wise idea to take this step, especially since it will keep your stomach full so you won’t binge your dinner.


In the End, Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain?

As we mentioned in the introduction to this post, nutritionists and specialists have a hard time discussing this matter. There is only one reason for that.

It is hard to give one firm answer to this question because physicians are not, just like we aren’t, familiar with each person’s eating habits, diet and exercise plans, sleeping patterns, and other parts of your routine that affect your health (like smoking, regular sex life, etc.).

Hard pressed for an answer, however, we would have to say YES. Numerous studies show the connection between eating late at night and weight gain.

Let’s check the facts!


Proof #1

According to a 2014 study, one of the hormones that affect your BMI (Body Mass Index) is melatonin. There is significant evidence that nocturnal melatonin affects your weight, the study suggests especially when it reaches high levels, in insulin-sensitive humans.


Proof #2

According to a study from 2009, mice that were fed a high-fat diet during the light period, the time they were supposed to be resting, gained more weight than when they were fed in the “dark phase,” the time that they were supposed to be active.


Proof #3

We have to admit that the previously mentioned studies don’t seem like sufficient evidence for the claim that eating late causes weight gain. So, let’s take as an example one of the weight-loss studies.

According to a study from 2013, a group of over 400 men and women underwent a 20-week weight-loss program. They were studied in two groups – early and late lunch eaters.

Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain

Both groups had the same energy intake, dietary composition, hormone levels, as well as sleep duration and other habits. The only difference was that the late lunch eaters were the ones that usually skipped breakfast or ate less energetic breakfast. The results showed that early lunch eaters lost more weight than the individuals from the late eating group.

And now, it can be official – eating late at night can significantly contribute to your weight gain.


Are You a Late Night Eater Yourself?

As you could see above, eating late at night is more than just a habit. It can be considered a symptom of a mental condition. So, if you are a late night eater, it’s time to do some evaluation of your emotional state. Are you trying to “eat your emotions” and find comfort in food? Are you just hungry and have different eating habits and a different meal schedule?

In the end, it’s up to you. If the lifestyle you lead revolves around eating late, we are confident your body will adjust to this biorhythm. Our tip is always to choose healthy, nutritious meals. If you can’t resist some delicious, low-calorie snacks, include them in your diet once in a while.

Thank you for reading this article to the very end. Now is a good time to discuss your experience. Have you had any issues with eating late at night and gaining weight? How did you manage to overcome this syndrome? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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