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Eating: Does It Matter When?

Is there a difference between eating during the day verses the night?

There is a saying that you should not eat right before going to bed because it will just sit in your stomach and the weight will take longer to burn off.

The science proves that there could be truth to this…but not quite for this reason.

It has more to do with the body’s natural hormonal cycles throughout the day more than food just sitting in your stomach overnight and making you “fat”. By the way, your digestive system is still pretty active overnight.

We as humans actually have circadian rhythms that have evolved overtime that trigger certain hormones like insulin and ghrelin to be more available at certain times of the day.

It is believed that since food was relatively scarce during Paleolithic times, we became more alert during the day, when it was easier to hunt for food, and then satiate our hunger at night.

Insulin and Nighttime Eating

What we have found through research is that insulin sensitivity is higher during the night time than it is in the morning time, meaning your blood sugar level rises more rapidly in response to foods in the night time. This in turn cause mores glucose to be stored away rather than used immediately for energy, and can build up over time and increase your fat reserves.

A 2013 study of two groups of women that were both directed to consume only 1400 calories per day, highlights this. One group had their largest meal during breakfast time, and the other group was instructed to have their largest meal at dinner.

Who do you think lost more weight?

The breakfast group.

Despite eating he exact same amount of “calories” every day, the dinner group it turns out had a larger overall rise of insulin.

Weight gain is facilitated by insulin, so the higher insulin response in the evening was translating to more weight gain. This highlights how obesity is just as much a hormonal dilemma rather than just calories in and calories out.

The Hunger Hormone: Ghrelin

Hunger itself also has a predictable cyclical rhythm, not necessarily caused only from alack of food.

A good amount of “busy-working” people skip breakfast in the morning, thus assuming they had dinner at 7pm the night before, and did not eat lunch until 12 pm. If they went to bed at 10pm, that means they went 14 hours without eating, technically a short fast, and still did not wake up hungry.

This goes to show its more than about going without food for a while.

Ghrelin, the hormone your body secretes when you are hungry to let you know its time to eat, is lowest in the morning, and peaks in the evening.

Ghrelin rises and falls with a natural circadian rhythm, lowest around 8am and highest at 8pm.

This cycle is inherent in our DNA and demonstrates the vital role hormonal regulation plays in hunger.

Depending on your desired weight and body composition goals, if you are an elite athlete or regular person, activity levels during the day, going against the grain and eating too much in spite of what your body needs at the time can work for or against you.

It’s all about timing.

The Takeaways

Seeing how these 2 hormones play a role in your hunger and blood sugar cycles affect how your body accepts and uses the foods you consume highlight the importance of not just WHAT you eat, but WHEN you eat.

Your lifestyle, food choices, activity levels, sleep hygiene, stress levels also all play pivotal roles in the release of these hormones and how your body accepts your dieting lifestyle.

So does your culture.

It’s pretty evident that North America has an abundance of foods readily available at literally anytime. And most families are eating dinner later in the evening when ghrelin and insulin sensitivity are at their peak.

Other countries typically have the largest meals of the day earlier, with big lunches, avoiding the highest insulin sensitivity cycle.

The best strategy for someone trying to lose weight or trim body fat would be to time your meals accordingly while also being mindful of portion size.

Add this in the mix with exercise, quality sleep, and creating low stress environment, you are on the right track to a better you.