Are You A Late Night Snacker?

Increasingly, it seems it is not just what you eat, but when you eat it that matters. So, if you are struggling to lose weight, or simply want to strike a healthier relationship with food, consider imposing a time limit on your snack routine.

“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.”

The way we process and metabolise food varies across the day, due to 24-hour rhythms in our liver, pancreas, muscles and even our fat cells.

Generally, we are better equipped to handle food consumed during the daytime, which makes sense given this is when humans have evolved to be active.

Several studies have associated late-night eating with an increased risk of diabetes and obesity. Why?

In a recent study, Marta Garaulet at the University of Murcia, Spain, and her colleagues compared what happened when the same group of people ate their dinner 4 hours before their habitual bedtime, or an hour before it. Even though they had exactly the same meal, eating later resulted in impaired glucose tolerance (a pre-diabetic state associated with higher than normal sugar levels in the blood).

The reason may be melatonin, a hormone we begin to secrete in the evening and continue to release overnight, telling our various organs and tissues to gear up for the night shift.

It has been suggested that if you have food together with melatonin, you may have impairments in glucose control or metabolism.

Supporting this idea, Garaulet’s team found that people with a genetic variant resulting in receptors that are more sensitive to melatonin had higher glucose intolerance when they ate meals not long before going to bed.

If weight loss is your goal, then besides avoiding late-night snacking, you might also reconsider your attitudes to daily meals.

In a previous study, Garaulet found that when women were put on a weight-loss diet, those who ate the bulk of their calories before 3 pm lost around 25% more body mass than women who consumed the same number of calories but ate more of them later in the day.

Most people in the UK increase their energy intake across the day, with breakfast providing the fewest calories and dinner the most (Knapton, 2016).

Researchers warn that modern lifestyles have led to many people dining later in the day, or at irregular intervals, which is confusing the body’s circadian rhythms and hindering digestion.

But recent trials have shown that people who eat the most in the morning experience greater weight loss and improve blood sugar levels even when consuming the same amount of calories overall.

But the evidence for this is not conclusive, and studies vary in their methodology and findings (NHS, 2016).

“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper.”


NHS (National Health Service). (2016) Should we ‘eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper’? Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 13 June, 2019].

Knapton, S. (2016) Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dine like a pauper to stay healthy, say scientists. Available from World Wide Web: [Accessed: 13 June, 2019].


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