Eating late at night makes a “significant difference” to our hunger levels, the way we burn calories after we eat, and the way we store fat, a new study explains.

Researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital have detected a link between midnight snacking and feeling hungrier, not burning many calories and molecular changes in fat tissue.

Chief author Dr Frank A. J. L. Scheer said: “We wanted to test the mechanisms that may explain why late eating increases obesity risk.

“Previous research by us and others had shown that late eating is associated with increased obesity risk, increased body fat, and impaired weight loss success. We wanted to understand why.”

Fellow author Dr Nina Vujovic said: “In this study, we asked, Does the time that we eat matter when everything else is kept consistent?

“We found that eating four hours later makes a significant difference for our hunger levels, the way we burn calories after we eat, and the way we store fat.”

A total of 16 people took part in the study, with half of the group eating the same meals earlier in the day than the other half of the participants.

Each participant self-reported their hunger and appetite levels and took regular samples of their blood.

The team of scientists also took adipose tissue samples from some of the participants to assess the differences between eating early and late.

They found that late eaters had higher hunger levels and reduced leptin and ghrelin levels – two appetite-regulating hormones which influence our drive to eat.

In addition, they have discovered that the participants eating later lost fewer calories than those eating earlier.

Individuals eating later also exhibited adipose tissue gene expression towards increased adipogenesis and decreased lipolysis, the findings have reported.

Dr Scheer said: “This study shows the impact of late versus early eating. Here, we isolated these effects by controlling for confounding variables like caloric intake, physical activity, sleep and light exposure, but in real life, many of these factors may themselves be influences by meal timing.

“In larger scale studies, where tight control of all these factors is not feasible, we must at least consider how other behavioural and environmental variables alter these biological pathways underlying obesity risk.”

Read the study here.

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