CBS News posted an article about how late night eating will sabotage your diet. We would like to emphasize this writing’s message by saying that late night eating is absolutely the fastest path to weight gain… period. The big three when it comes to weight gain are: (1) large portions of (2) high glycemic foods and (3) eating it within four hours of bedtime. This is exactly the most effective way to gain weight – eat a large portion of high glycemic food (potatoes, rice, white bread, cereal, sugar) right before bedtime. The closer to bedtime, the fatter you’ll get. It’s the ultimate fat bomb — the equivalent of a nuclear bomb when it comes to you gaining weight. You’ll find that we talk about late night snacks a lot here. And because we are all about weight loss, it’s all bad talk. So here we go again…

The CBS article is based on a report published in the journal Cell Metabolism about a recent study by the Salk Institute. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies was founded by the American medical researcher and virologist, Dr. Jonas Salk, who developed the first polio vaccine. The Salk Institute is a leading research center in molecular biology and genetics, neurosciences, and plant biology.

No people involved in this research. But, they did fatten up some mice. We’ve known about and have been telling our weight loss surgery patients about the perils of late night eating for years and years. So please don’t think the result of eating late at night will be any different for people than for mice. The only difference between a mouse or a person who eats within four hours of their bedtime is you get a fat mouse or person respectively.

How Long? Weight loss isn’t just about how late you eat

In a 2012 Salk study they did what they call a “time-restricted diet.” One group of mice were only allowed access to fattening food eight hours within a twenty four hour period and the other group had continual (24 hour) access to the same food. In their most recent tests they played around with the hours a little bit. Different groups of mice were allowed to feed within time periods that varied from nine to twelve hours. The group destined for weight gain was fed within a fifteen hour window. It’s interesting that the small time difference (three to six hours) between the nine to twelve hour groups and the fifteen hour group still produced noticeably fatter mice when they ate only a few extra hours. If a mouse were removed from the fifteen hour group and placed into a nine or twelve hour group, they lost weight very quickly (five percent body fat loss within days).

But what’s really shocking in this latest study is the type of food eaten played a much lesser rolethan the time frame of consumption. The mice were fed various more or less fattening diets: high fructose, high fat, high fat and fructose.  The diet did not matter anywhere near as much as the number of linear hours food was consumed in a day. The unanimous results were that the nine to twelve hour groups all ended up thin and the fifteen hours groups all fat. We think it’s obvious that the quantity of food eaten over fifteen hours will be greater than that consumed over nine to twelve hours. So it still kind of boils down to weight loss surgeon Dr. Simpson’s original maxim, “There are no bad foods, just bad quantities of food.” But, we need to temper this maxim just a little bit based on our experience with people. You just can’t eat anything and be healthy. You must understand nutrition to be healthy and eat accordingly. We’re pretty sure a diet of fructose and fat isn’t good for the longevity of man nor mouse. That’s why we have an experienced full time dietician on our staff who is present at most of our weight loss surgery support meetings. We teach you the art of diet with pleasure in healthy food preparation and consumption.

Why do they think a time restricted diet works? Well, they don’t exactly know. It appears to have something to do with the cycle of breaking down cholesterol and fat in the body. The article indicates that the higher availability of food in modern society is what causes us to eat sixteen hours out of the sixteen hours we are awake. Back in the stone age we were hunter/gatherers and the gaps between meals were huge compared to modern continuous consumption. Eating frequently causes continual production and storage of fat cells produced by the liver. Now this is scary – extended (or long term) fat production from continuous eating can damage your liver. To make matters worse continuous eating (or what we call grazing) causes increased glucose (blood sugar) production from the liver. That’s right.  Eating all the time from when you get up in the morning to when you go to sleep will very likely give you type 2 diabetes. That’s why eating less after having weight loss surgery causes most patients to lose type 2 diabetes almost immediately after having the Lap-band, Gastric Sleeve or Gastric Plication. So, if you are getting weight loss surgery to lose diabetes (in addition to losing all the weight you want more quickly than any other way), you also may want to eat your daily sustenance within a nine hour time frame. One pleasant surprise was that mice on the nine hour diet could go off the diet over the weekend and retain their mousely figure. That’s right. They could cheat all weekend and not gain weight. It would be nice if that translates to be true for people. The researchers wouldn’t commit to that also being true for us.

In fact the article qualified that the study results may not be applicable to people. The outcomes in the study for mice were extraordinarily consistent – the groups with nine to twelve hours of food consumption were thin, the fifteen hour group was overweight. We believe there will be more variables if the study were conducted on people or on mice not raised in a lab. There were no age or level of activity considerations mentioned in the CBS article. Age and lifetimes of positive or negative diet and activity behaviors cause people to develop unique genetics making individuals respond much differently to almost exactly the same diet. Health is a bank that you invest in over the years of your life. A person who has never exercised and consistently eaten junk over a ten year period is going to respond much differently to diet changes than someone who has banked systematic aerobic and anaerobic exercise with a well balanced diet. All things being equal, every organ in their body will be stronger, more effective and least likely to be affected by short term diet change. So while studies like this are compelling, they are not studies done on real people. Weight loss surgeon Dr. Terry Simpson has done years and years of advanced documented studies on real people, his patients. He reports the results to medical publications and journals. But more importantly, he reports to his present and future patients in entertaining and easy to understand books written just for you and your success in weight loss.

Getting help (yes late night eating is so addictive you need it)

You burn more calories in the morning. If you eat within reason, lunch burns off too. Why is that? Because you’re doing things – moving around, thinking, stressing. After work many people take their shoes off, sit down in front of the TV and they don’t move again all night – except to eat. The nighttime is the right time to eat. Have you ever noticed that? It seems to be the time people turn to comfort food. Maybe to counter the fact the boss doesn’t like you as much as someone who doesn’t work nearly as hard as you do. Or your video game addicted child is getting failing grades in school. Money and relationship problems can send you to your food fix.  Which for most people with weight problems is typically sweet and/or starchy and fattening. Once you see this food reaction, you can start doing something about it. After seeing it, the first thing you need to do is fix the things that stress you. Deal with it: find a new job, reward good grades, limit your child’s video gaming, get on a budget, and get rid of the wrong people. Agitation, fear and stress cause the eating reaction. But, what if your problems are based on something in your past, abuse as a child, losing a loved one, or abandonment? Something that gnaws at you that you can’t understand and so can’t even begin to turn it off? Get some help. Most insurances have counseling programs set up which allow you access to a psychiatrist, psychologist or counselor. But, what if you don’t have insurance? Find a meet up online (There is a  “Meetup” website). There are groups of people seeking to help themselves by helping others. Get into a diet meet up for compulsive/impulsive eating. There you will meet people who have exactly the same issues you have with late night eating and they will help you to learn to react in new positive ways other than just succumbing and eating. Our weight loss surgery support groups are among the best available for compulsive eaters. Most seriously overweight people who are not genetically predisposed to be obese are compulsive/impulsive eaters. Our support groups are the sure path to beating it.

No matter if you use our weight loss surgery support groups or a meet up, find and develop a network of people who have an affinity with your urges to eat. Get a buddy who is also trying to lose weight and is also challenged by night eating. Make a pact to call one another when late night hunger urges you to eat and set your fat bomb off. Get into mutually beneficial relationships where you can call concerned helpers when you are weak and getting ready to eat that piece of cake or pie at 9:30 PM. Usually someone just telling you not to do it will be enough to stop you. Your mind gets on the conversation and the benefit of not doing it, then the urge will pass. Remember, this is a two way relationship. Your helpers will be calling you for help too and that’s not always going to be convenient. You are going to have to drop what you are doing and give up some of your time when they need it too. So be ready to happily sacrifice your time and be reciprocal. For it to work, everyone in such a support network must be willing to commit to being a devoted, concerned listener. You must all be serious helpers, involved and in the moment for each other’s support. When each of you knows the other cares, all of you will listen when the other asks, “Do you really want to eat that now?”

Night time is the right time for stressing for many people. At night some people have a lot of time to themselves to think and stress about all the things that have gone wrong. The relationship between stress and binge eating has been proven for decades. Learn how to accept life the way it is. You can’t always win and people are just not always going to do the right thing by you. Learn how to accept the times life has dealt you a bad hand. Bad deals happen all the time and to people at all levels. We all get them. It’s how you process negative things that determines your stress level and how good your life is going to be. Have the serenity to see and know the things you can’t change. Learn how to relax no matter what goes wrong. Do things that are known to reduce stress such as meditation, positive visualization and breathing exercises (there are meet ups about these too). Make your night time the right time for acceptance and relaxation, and you won’t be hitting the fridge to counter everyday stress. Stress reduction exercises and support will help you end late night eating and step out of obesity. A good idea if you can do it is instead of sitting in front of the TV at night, do something. Get out and spend quality time with your family. If you live alone, join that support group meet up. But, meet ups don’t have to be just about weight loss. Get involved with people that have the same interests you do. If you don’t have any interests, get some. Do something new that you’ve always wanted to do. Keep in mind that meet ups involve human relationships and so can fail. If the first one doesn’t work out, find another one and keep looking until you’re with the right people. Or you be the boss and start your own meet up. Lonely, empty idle time is your enemy. That’s when depression and anxiety consume you and cause you to eat. So find ways to enrich your life, to be involved and in the moment. You could even do a laid back meditation on a treadmill, elliptical machine or rowing machine. You can do that while watching your favorite TV show or listening to your favorite music. After awhile your conditioning will improve and you could even join a fitness meet up. Instead of melting down in a chair or couch, get involved. Do something that will make you feel really good…

  1. Firger, Jessica. “Don’t Sabotage Your Diet with a Midnight Snack.” CBSNEWS. CBS Interactive Inc., 3 Dec. 2014. Web. 11 Dec. 2014.