Late-night bingeing is hard-wired, scientists say

The desire to polish off an entire tub of ice cream may have more to do with evolutionary wiring than weak willpower, a new study from Brigham and Women's Hospital suggests.

As it turns out, the time when people crave salty, sweet and starchy foods the most is around 8 p.m. – regardless of when they had their last meal.

Circadian rhythms affect hunger

A research team analyzed 12 healthy individuals in a lab setting to track how circadian rhythms can change eating patterns and food behavior. All of the participants reported increased feelings of hunger and desire for junk food at the same time – 8 p.m. – suggesting that the body may be hard-wired when it comes to appetite and that impulse control may not just be a matter of iron resolve.

Why would the brain wire humans to be more hungry at night? Researchers say that, from an evolutionary perspective, it could indicate an automatic response to eat at a time when the body would be most likely to store the food as fat. Eating heavily at night has been more closely associated with weight gain than eating during the day, suggesting that primal instincts about survival may be kicking in, even if you had a big meal just a few hours earlier.

Beating the brain

How can you avoid late-night cravings? The study suggests that simply adjusting your bedtime so that you go to sleep earlier might help. Other conventional wisdom says that not eating in front of the television and keeping healthy snacks on hand may also prevent unhealthy night eating.

And since research has shown that eating your largest meal of the day in the morning can lead to weight loss, the authors say, skip heavy dinners and make breakfast or lunch your time to fuel up.

More information about the study can be found in the journal Obesity.

Source: Women's Health

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