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Why Do We Eat More During the Night?

Why Do We Eat More During the Night?

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  • Eating late during the day and stress can induce overeating.
  • The levels of hunger hormones increase and the levels of satiety hormones take a dip in the evening.
  • The findings can help modify behavior which can prevent overeating.

Intake of food during the day is usually much less, when compared to that of food consumed in the evenings. We would probably think, that we are hard pressed for time to grab a bite during the day, and more relaxed in the evening. However, this is not so. A recent study finds that the level of hunger hormones rise and satiety hormone levels decrease in the evening. This means that we will want to eat more and we tend to feel that we are not full especially in the evening.

Stress may increase hunger hormone levels in the evening, and the impact of hormones on appetite may be greater for people prone to binge eating.


"Our findings suggest that evening is a high-risk time for overeating, especially if you're stressed and already prone to binge eating," said Dr. Susan Carnell, assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and the new study's first author.

"The good news is that having this knowledge, people could take steps to reduce their risk of overeating by eating earlier in the day, or finding alternative ways to deal with stress," she adds.

Can Stress be the Reason For Overeating?

Previous research has shown that stress during the daytime can increase levels of ghrelin, a hunger hormone. But then, does stress affect hunger urges at later hours, especially among those with binge eating disorder? The research team designed an experiment to measure participants' hunger and stress hormones at different times.

For the study, the research team recruited 32 overweight participants aged 18-50. They had a body mass index ranging from 28-52 with no other health issues.

Each participant was on a fast for eight hours and then received a liquid meal at either 9 a.m. or 4 p.m. After about two hours, each participant then underwent a standard experimental stress test. The participants submerged their nondominant hand in a bucket of cold water for two minutes and their facial expressions were recorded.

Blood samples were drawn to assess stress and hunger hormones. The levels of hunger and fullness were rated by the participants on a numeric scale.

Participants were offered a buffet 30 minutes after the start of the stress test. The buffet had three medium pizzas, cookies and chocolate covered candies, individual containers of snack chips, and water.

Stress, Hormones and Overeating

Stress can lead to changes in the serum level of many hormones including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin. Stress can relate to the response of the body to disease conditions, infection or the psychological effect that causes tension, depression.

Stress is a challenge to the natural homeostasis of an organism; in turn, the organism may react to stress by producing a physiological response to regain equilibrium lost by the impact of the stressor. One such homeostasis that is disrupted is that of feeding behavior.

Stress causes disorders in a feedback mechanism related to the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis. This regulates both stress and feeding responses. Uncontrollable stress can change eating patterns and can either induce over eating. Those who are stressed generally prefer high fat, high calorie and foods high in sugar, salt such as fried snacks, pastries, potato chips, nachos. Over a period of time, this could lead to changes in the body due to stress and can trigger responses in the brain that promotes overeating.

Elevated Hunger Hormones and Stress Influence Overeating

It is well known that stress induces hunger and drives emotional eating. But does the influence of stress remain the same throughout the day?

The findings show that:
  • The time of day significantly impacted hunger levels. Compared to morning, the self-reported appetite was higher in the evening.
  • The levels of peptide YY, a hormone linked to reduced appetite, glucose and insulin levels were decreased.
  • Those with binge eating disorder had higher initial levels of ghrelin in the evening while it was lower in the morning.
  • All the participants experienced higher levels of ghrelin in the evening and after the stress test. This shows that stress may trigger hunger in the evening than during the day.

Tips to Deal With Overeating During The Evening

The study findings now show the scientific evidence that elevated hunger hormones during the evening is the reason behind over eating. Stress and binge eating behavior can add on to the risk of obesity.
  • Spot the stressor. Find out what makes you stress out and deal with it.
  • At work or at home, try to finish most of the crucial task as the day begins instead of accumulating them. This can help reduce tension.
  • Space out your meals through-out the day to avoid overeating during the evening
  • Drink plenty of water.
  • Eat balanced meals. Include plenty of vegetables, greens for lunch.
  • Have a healthy snack or a fruit juice between the lunch and the dinner to avoid excess food intake.
  • To combat stress, perform relaxation exercises like deep breathing or practice meditation, yoga, laughter and rhythmic exercises. These exercises help in bringing the nervous system back to equilibrium.
References :
  1. S Carnell, C Grillot, T Ungredda, S Ellis, N Mehta, J Holst & A Geliebter. 'Morning and afternoon appetite and gut hormone responses to meal and stress challenges in obese individuals with and without binge eating disorder.' International Journal of Obesity (2018). doi:10.1038/ijo.2017.307.
  2. Yvonne H. C. Yau1 and Marc N. Potenzal. 'Stress and Eating Behaviors.' Minerva Endocrinol. (2013).
Source: Medindia

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