Put the Brakes on Nighttime Overeating
For many, nighttime is the right time to overeat
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Reviewed by Ann Edmundson, MD
When is the absolute worst time to overeat, metabolically speaking? Many experts agree that it's nighttime, when our bodies have the lowest need for calories.
Yet "in America, we eat more during dinner than any other meal," says U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher Shanthy Bowman, PhD.
This is especially true for those of us who are overweight, according to a recent national USDA survey. It found that overweight adults tended to eat significantly more calories than normal-weight adults at dinnertime (while eating just a few more calories at breakfast and lunch).
Dinner isn't the only problem, either. While afternoon is the most popular time to snack, evening snacks are in the No. 2 position. According to a recent study from the University of Texas at El Paso, snacking at night makes it all too easy to overeat. That's because eating late in the day may be less satisfying than eating the same amount of food earlier in the day.
"Intake in the late night lacks satiating value and can result in greater overall daily intake" of calories, says the study's lead researcher, John de Castro, PhD, chairman of the psychology department at the University of Texas at El Paso.
Facts About Evening Eating
Over the years, De Castro's research into meal sizes, meal patterns, and calorie distribution has turned up some other findings about evening eating:
Obesity expert Edward Saltzman, MD, thinks the real problem is not so much that we burn fewer calories at night, but that nighttime eating tends to result from unhealthy meal patterns. The three types of meal-pattern problems Saltzman sees most often are:
Why We Eat at Night
There are many reasons why so many of our total calories tend to be eaten during and after dinner, including physiological, emotional, cultural, and possibly evolutionary influences. They include:
Tips for Overcoming Nighttime Noshing
But even with all this working against us, experts say, it is possible to avoid nighttime overeating. If you're a nighttime nosher, here are some tips to help you kick the habit:
1. Get in the habit of enjoying a hot cup of decaffeinated tea at night. Tea comes in so many great flavors that you'll never be bored. In the warmer months, have a glass of iced tea instead.
2. Many people snack at night because they're bored. Keep your evenings interesting, and you'll find it easier to refrain from mindless snacking. Take a night class, plan an evening exercise session, find a new and interesting book or hobby, etc.