A long time ago, in ancient times, people were only interested in the total calorie intake. When they managed to get food, then they ate: someone gnawed on a grain during the day, like a field mouse, and someone only ate before going to bed, like a boa constrictor. And no one cared whether the sun was shining or the month came out.
Today, we believe that there is no way to eat after sunset. Either because of the lack of physical activity during sleep, or because of fluctuations in the levels of different hormones, or calories acquire special properties at night. And the studies – even those done in high-security laboratories, monitoring every meal – are ambiguous.
Food day and night
A 2007 study of 12 obese women found no effect of meal timing on weight. There were no statistically significant changes in total body mass, lean mass, and percentage of body fat among participants who ate during the day, night, or at any time of the day.
The 2012 study involved 78 full-time police officers; most of the kilograms (and centimeters from the waist) went away from those who consumed the bulk of carbohydrates for dinner.
In a 2013 study of 74 overweight women, those who ate more (total calories) for breakfast rather than dinner lost more weight.
Another 2013 study that looked at people of normal weight: those who did not eat from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. consumed an average of 239 fewer calories per day (in the long run, this has a big effect).
In a crossover study, 10 overweight women ate one regimen for 6 weeks and another for 6 weeks. In the first cycle, those who ate the bulk of their calories in the evening lost more fat than in the morning. However, when the experiment was repeated, the results were the opposite: those who ate more in the morning lost more weight.
A study by the University of Pennsylvania found that eating at night impairs metabolism. And a study by the University of Oregon, conducted on animals, did not reveal a negative effect: monkeys who preferred to eat in the dark did not gain too much (compared to relatives who rarely ate at night).
As you can see, the scientific community has not reached a consensus; the results of these studies do not allow us to draw definitive conclusions about the benefits or dangers of eating at night.
The problem with the above studies is that they looked exclusively at biological aspects, not paying attention to psychological ones. People are prone to “hedonic hyperphagia”, i.e. can eat for pleasure, and not because of real hunger.
If we are not busy with anything, we are bored, we entertain ourselves passively (for example, we lie and watch TV shows), the thought naturally appears in our head that it would be nice to have a snack. Although there is no calorie deficit at all.
This is what happens most often at night and it is because of this that we get fat. And not because of any special properties of the night metabolism or moonlight.
What to do
While there is no clear benefit to different eating patterns, eating at night is slightly more harmful to the waist. But this is not a reason to change your addictions if everything is going well for you.
However, if you intend to lose weight and are prone to hedonic overeating, it makes sense to abstain in the 9-12 hour night window. That being said, I would still recommend eating a little protein food (with a minimum of carbohydrates) before bed to maintain muscle mass: low-fat cheese or homemade cottage cheese, low-fat yogurt, a serving or two of a protein shake, and the like.