At around 9:00 PM a lot of nights, my brain turns to desserts. It doesn’t matter if I’m completely full or satisfied with all the food I’ve eaten throughout the day. I attribute this phenomenon to a few things:
-tradition (I have always had a dessert a couple hours after dinner. It’s just what I do)
-fatigue (when I’m tired I like to eat)
-mindless eating instead of mindful eating (eating just to eat and not paying attention to if I’m full or not)
-not being able to really figure out my hunger/satiety cues at night (or just ignoring them).
One night I was laying in bed and reallllllly wanted a donut. Just a small Hostess chocolate covered donette. You know the ones I mean. The yellow cake covered in waxy chocolate. So gross, yet to me, so delicious.
I resisted the urge to get up and go get one, but it was really surprising to me that I even had that urge that late at night. Believe me, I get plenty of snacks and don’t deprive myself of any of the foods I want. I feel like I have a healthy relationship with food. But why the late night craving?
What if there is more to the midnight snack than we previously thought?
A recent preliminary study at Brigham Young University (so fun to see something from my alma mater!) suggested the neural receptors in our brain that help us feel satisfied with our food are lower at night than during the day (1). Therefore, one could argue that we tend to eat more at night because we aren’t feeling the same satisfaction.
The study was performed by exercise sciences professors and a neuroscientist by using MRI to measure how people’s brains respond to high-and low-calorie food images at different times of the day. Their results showed that when shown different images of food, especially foods that are high in calories, it can generate spikes in a person’s brain activity; however, the study showed that those spikes are lower in the evening. According to the lead author of the study, a reason a person might over-consume food at night is because food is not as visually rewarding at that time of day, so it may not be as satisfying and lead a person to eat more to try to reach that satisfaction. The biggest surprise for the authors of the study was that there was lower reward-related brain reactivity to the food images the participants were shown in the evening.
I thought this study was pretty interesting. I have always thought I wanted to eat more at night because of stress or just something to do. It will be interesting to see what follow-up studies find and how the neural responses in the brain translate into eating behavior.
What do you think about this? Do you think this study is on to something?
Do you find yourself eating more at night?
It’s a myth that your body doesn’t digest food very well after a certain time of night. Your body digests food the same way every time. Our bodies rock. The reasons you may choose to not eat after a certain point at night are because people tend to overeat at night for various reasons: stress, reflux if you try to lay down too soon after eating, boredom, mindless instead of mindful eating, etc. If you are hungry, by all means, eat a midnight snack. One time when I was pregnant, I woke up and my stomach was roaring. The rumblings of my intestines even woke my husband up. It was one of the strangest thing I had experienced during my pregnancy. Even though it was the middle of the night, I got up and ate something because clearly my dessert from the night before wasn’t pulling me through. If you wake up truly hungry, don’t feel guilty about feeding yourself.