What Happens to Your Body When You Eat Late at Night? Is It Unhealthy?

Heather Campbell
 min read

What happens to your body when you eat late at night? 

What happens to your body when you eat late at night? Is it unhealthy?Quite a few people are used to eating in the evening after their evening meal.

As a general rule, eating late at night is a bad idea. It activates your fat storage at a  time when your digestion needs rest, which happens at night. Our metabolism works differently at night, the body starts to store more food as fat, and there’s a tendency to eat more unhealthily.

For example, a cookie with tea, a bowl of yogurt after exercise, or a glass of wine with some nuts. Or a nice hotdog, some popcorn, or some roast chicken.

Some think they’re starving. For others, it’s just a habit to indulge in some comfort eating.

Read on to discover all the details!

What happens to your body when you eat late at night? Introduction

Some dietitians used to, and sometimes still do, follow the theory that “a calorie is a calorie.”

According to this theory, it doesn’t matter what food you eat at what time, as long as your total calorie intake doesn’t exceed your total calorie burn.

With that line of reasoning, you can eat little during the day and then a little more in the evening, including crisps or a block of cheese.

That way, you’ll end up with very few calories in total. But besides being very unhealthy, that theory just doesn’t work in practice.

Your body is not a simple calorie counter but a complex system that is sensitive to the quality of your diet.

Your body processes one calorie differently than another. This has to do with the combination in which you ingest the calories.

Simply put, 100 calories of cauliflower won’t make you fat because cauliflower contains so many other healthy nutrients, but 100 calories of pie will.

Your metabolism works differently at night

In addition, several scientific studies showed that eating in the evening stimulates your fat storage more.

This extra fat storage at night has to do with your biological clock. As a result, your metabolism is different in the evening and activates your fat storage more when you eat something.

So a slowed metabolism and increased fat storage is another crucial reason to kick the habit of eating extra in the evening.

More and more studies are also showing that the timing of what you eat affects your fat burning.

Your body stores the calories you eat in the evening more as fat instead of burning them. This can lead to weight gain and higher blood sugar levels in your blood, which in turn can lead to diabetes.

The reason for the difference in the processing of food is not yet known precisely. However, further research is still taking place on how your biological clock affects digestion.

The reduced calorie burn could be related to your body temperature, the course of biochemical reactions, varying hormone levels, physical activity, and your digestion.

Eating at night makes you old faster

There is probably another reason why eating late at night is unhealthy, even if you eat something healthy.

Not only do you activate your fat storage when you eat late at night, but it also potentially promotes aging.

Your metabolism needs rest

In the evening, your body needs less energy. Then when you do start eating, your cells cannot handle the processing of this energy and may be damaged by excess radicals. And possibly damages your DNA too.

Scientists suspect that this process contributes to accelerated aging.

The understanding that your metabolism needs rest is gaining in importance and ground. That’s why intermittent fasting is becoming more popular.

You then don’t eat anything in the evening after your meal until the next morning. Try not to eat anything for 12 hours and possibly extend that period to 16 or 18 hours. Do this once a week. It is very good for your health and also for your weight.

Why do you feel like eating late at night?

So why is eating something late at night so normal anyway? What happens to your body when you eat late at night? Is it unhealthy?

Scientists see 4 main reasons for this:

Eating in the evening is in our genes

Possibly the craving for eating sweet, salty, and fatty snacks late at night is deep in our genes.

It is said to date back to when our ancestors had to deal with scarcity.

In the evening, it was then most efficient to store as much fuel as possible (so that our ancestors could immediately set out with sufficient energy during the day if needed).

This programming in our DNA would explain the need for sweet, salty, and fatty foods in the evening.

But we no longer live in the prehistoric era and today, storing extra energy and fuel in the evening is no longer necessary.

The performance society and stress

Something else that may come into play in our modern society is that we have to perform at the end of the day and in the evening.

Our bodies are actually programmed to slow down at the end of the afternoon. But we often have to meet a deadline or attend a meeting or accomplish some other feat.

The stress hormones that are then released also cause you to eat some more.

Emotional eating out of boredom or loneliness

A third reason is emotional eating out of boredom or loneliness.

As you sit on the sofa in the evening, it’s tempting to open a bag of popcorn or crisps.

Ensure you have something fun to do in the evening to avoid emo eating.

Conviviality and social pressure

A fourth reason we want to eat in the evening that is becoming increasingly important is sociability and social pressure.

These days, there is something to celebrate every day, and every night, there is a reason to have a wine or beer and make some snacks.

Limit it to weekends or special occasions. Then you can enjoy it more too. You also fit into your clothes better and feel much fitter and healthier.

How do you avoid snacking in the evening?

It’s better for your body, and if you want to fit nicely into your clothes and feel energized all day, it’s just a simple and logical step.

But how do you tackle that? Read on for some practical tips.

7 tips to stop eating at night

Make sure you eat well during the day

That is, you eat enough and according to the right balance and ratio of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates.

So don’t go hungry during the day but eat healthy and varied meals. Your body will then get enough nutrients, and you won’t have spikes in your blood sugar.

This prevents the hunger dip at the end of the afternoon and inhibits the need for extra food later in the evening.

A guideline is to not eat anything 3 hours before you go to sleep.

Some even recommend not eating anything for 6 hours before going to sleep.

This allows your digestive system a rest, and you minimize the chances of extra fat storage.

Don’t keep greasy junk food in the house

Don’t get junk food in the house.

So don’t buy cookies, fried chicken, hamburgers, candies, crisps, hotdogs, soda, donuts, ready-made pizzas, etc.

It helps if you just don’t have these junk foods in the house.

Tip: Also check out our other article on avoiding junk food How to stop eating junk food? Tips to take back control

Start exercising more

It turns out that exercising has a neutralizing effect on your blood sugar levels that makes you less likely to have a hunger attack in the evening.

Be more active

Find an activity for the evening that doesn’t involve sitting on the sofa with snacks and drinks and not thinking about food, but rather being active.

Skip your dessert

Many people have the habit of eating dessert in the evening. This causes your blood sugar to spike, making you hungry again later in the evening.

It takes some getting used to but not eating desserts helps, and you can quickly get used to it.

Save eating desserts for special occasions, and you can enjoy them more.

Tip: Learn more about what sugar does to you and why cutting down on it is a good idea in our other article Does cutting out sugar make you dizzy & feel weak? 7 Sugar detox tips

Cold turkey rehab is usually not a good idea

Don’t try to go “cold turkey” unless you’re convinced you have enough willpower to keep it up. Instead, do it in small steps.

For example, start by not eating after your evening meal 2 nights a week and build it up slowly.

Over time, you will no longer feel like snacking in the evening.

Keep a food diary

All change begins with awareness.

When you see what you are eating and drinking, and when you figure out why and when you are snacking, you can start to change your habits.

Every change starts with a small first step.

What happens to your body when you eat late at night? Conclusion

It is difficult to change this habit, but the 7 tips given in this article are extremely practical and doable.

Once you succeed, you will feel more energy and feel more comfortable in your clothes!

So it’s a matter of setting your mind to it and changing your habits step by step. You can do it, and your body is worth it.

Think of it as another step toward a healthier lifestyle.

About Heather Campbell

As a dietitian, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More