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Late Night Snacking and What it’s Doing to Your Body

Intermittent fasting has been gaining traction over the past few years, many depending on this new system as an easier alternative to other traditional weight loss methods such as a change of diet. 1,009 adults in the U.S. preferred intermittent fasting and ranked it as the most popular diet for weight loss. Intermittent fasting does not tell you what to eat, but rather when to, splitting the 24 hours of the day to a window of time where you fast, and then a period where you can consume food. For example, the most popular intermittent fasting hour splitting is to halt food intake for 16 hours, then allow yourself to eat for the eight remaining hours, known as 16:8 fasting.

Multiple studies and research have surfaced over the past few years confirming the weight loss and other benefits fasting has on our bodies. According to John Hopkins neuroscientist Mark Mattson, our bodies have been accustomed to, and thrived on fasting for centuries, since our ancestors were hunters and gatherers that would have to survive without food for several days.

Give it a quick Google search; there’s no denying that intermittent fasting could benefit our bodies in a multitude of ways. Recently however, researchers have begun to move away from studying fasting or calorie intake, but rather when you should stop or begin your food intake. While studies in the past simply took all calories to be equal no matter when they were consumed, science has found that certain times can make fat burn more efficient, for many reasons. The consensus? Stop eating after 8 p.m.

Metabolism and Your Biological Clock

So why is eating after 8 p.m. such a crime? Bear with me while I try to simplify the complex biochemical terms that are about to be nudged your way. Studies regarding fasting times, using a consistent calorie intake and activity level as a control, found that the timing of the participant’s food consumption had a major effect on their ability to burn fat. This means if you ate the same bag of chips at breakfast, then again later on during the night, your body would break down less fat from the chips at night than you would’ve in the morning. This is why research has shown higher rates of weight gain in those that consume most of their food at night.

So why does our body do that? It has a lot to do with circadian rhythms, as in the mental and physical changes that occur in the body within 24 hours. These rhythms are associated with our biological clock, which is influenced by light and tells our organs what time of day it is. These rhythms are known to affect how we metabolize our fats during those 24 hours, whereby the calories we burn from digestion and absorption of nutrients (also known as diet-induced thermogenesis), are lower at night. Apparently, this is due to humans evolving a mechanism that makes our body more sensitive to insulin in the morning- on purpose. Our bodies accept insulin to a higher degree in the morning, which helps in giving us energy to get moving and take on our day. At night, however, our body resists insulin more, meaning our late-night snacks are stored as fat as we sleep instead of being burned during the day.

Late-Night Snacking and Your Sleep

Weight gain isn’t the only downside of consuming food past 8 p.m., it could also affect your sleep patterns as well. When you consume food at night, your digestion muscles have to continue to work at night when they should be relaxing. This can keep your body awake and make it more difficult to fall asleep, even at times not allowing you to reach the deep stage of sleep you need and hindering your sleep quality.

The worst part is, this can also cycle back and cause more weight gain, not just due to your lower metabolism rates at night but also since insufficient sleep can alter the hormone levels responsible for regulating hunger. Research has shown that not having enough sleep can make us hungrier when we’re awake, also driving us to crave unhealthy foods. The research showed this by comparing participants keeping the majority of their food intake during the day, instead of during late nights, with the former reporting significantly lower hunger levels. Another study explained that this is due to the hormone ghrelin, linked to appetite, peaking through the daytime, whereas the hormone leptin, which keeps us full and satisfied after food, peaked later. This means we are likely to feel hungrier earlier, therefore eating earlier, and then feeling full and satisfied as the day comes to an end.

Eating Later and Higher Rates of Unnecessary Snacking

Abstaining from snacking is harder than it ever has been throughout history, according to Christie Williams, a dietician at John Hopkins. Back then, TV programs would halt early in the night, and people would stop eating and go to sleep, plus, the portions they would consume were much smaller.

Nowadays with the internet and easy access to watchable content at any time, many who lead a busy lifestyle during the day delay their food intake to the early evening, and are likely to relax and watch Netflix or play video games at the end of their day. Watching TV will inevitably lead to snacking, usually indulging in high-fat sugary foods late at night. Chips and chocolate will be consumed mindlessly during the night, as a part of our end of work day relaxation routine. Combining that with a lack of sleep affecting hunger levels and cravings of unhealthy foods, eating late at night plunges you into a cycle of weight gain and lower fitness levels.

Long-Term Health Risks

As mentioned above, eating during the night could cause higher glucose and less resistance to insulin. A study by researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine proved that higher levels of insulin and glucose are associated with diabetes and high cholesterol, as well as cardiovascular problems in the long-term.

Compared to eating earlier in the day, prolonged delayed eating can increase weight, insulin and cholesterol levels, and negatively affect fat metabolism, and hormonal markers implicated in heart disease, diabetes and other health problems, according to results from researchers at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

How MySeema Can Help You Start and Maintain This Habit

We know how hard it is to build healthier habits, especially when you are prone to having long and stressful work days. But whether you are trying to lose weight, get healthier or have better sleep, you’re going to want to front-load your calories as much as possible. This takes motivation and keeping track and being aware of your intake timings, which is exactly what MySeema can do for you! In our Routine Tier, we provide you with a personal assistant that keeps you accountable, reaching out at the appropriate times to encourage you to stop eating. This could also entail reminders to not skip your breakfast, and motivating you to switch your big meal of the day to lunch time and instead eat light for dinner.

Here’s the thing, we know that these goals are not always realistic, depending on your work schedules and responsibilities throughout the day, however we always have alternatives. Not eating after 8p.m. may be the standard timing to stop your intake, but if that timing is difficult to abide by, another rule of thumb is to try to stop food intake 3 hours before bed.

If even that is difficult and you are really hungry during the night, it would be best to stick to healthy foods, including raw/steamed vegetables, fruits, or yogurt. With MySeema’s companionship by your side, you can always lean on us to help you navigate your health journey, by providing recipes and suggestions that accommodate your lifestyle.

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