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Evening Food Cravings Linked to Circadian System

by Sandy Todd Webster on Jul 01, 2013

Food for Thought

Despite best intentions, many people fall prey to unhealthy snack cravings in the late evening. But before you beat yourself up for being seduced by the siren song of your favorite duo—Ben and Jerry—new research suggests that perhaps we are hardwired for such eating patterns.

Research published in the journal Obesity (2013; [21], 421–23) shows that the body’s internal clock, the circadian system, increases hunger and cravings for sweet, starchy and salty foods in the evenings. While the urge to consume more before sleep may have helped our ancestors store energy to survive in times of food scarcity, in the current environment of high-calorie food, late-night snacks may result in significant weight gain.

“Of course, there are many factors that affect weight gain, principally diet and exercise, but the time of eating also has an effect,” said Steven Shea, PhD, director for the Center for Research on Occupational and Environmental Toxicology at Oregon Health & Science University and senior author on the study. “We found with this study that the internal circadian system also likely plays a role in today’s obesity epidemic because it intensifies hunger at night. People who eat a lot in the evening, especially high-calorie foods and beverages, are more likely to be overweight or obese.”

Findings
  • Study authors observed that the internal circadian system regulated hunger, with participants feeling least hungry in the morning (8:00 am) and most hungry in the evening (8:00 pm).
  • Similar rhythms were found in appetite for specific types of food, such as sweet, starchy and salty, and in how much participants estimated they could eat.
  • Researchers concluded that the internal circadian system causes an evening peak in appetite that may promote consumption of larger, higher-calorie meals before the fasting period necessitated by sleep.

“Our study suggests that because of the internal circadian regulation of appetite, we have a natural tendency to skip breakfast in favor of larger meals in the evening. This pattern of food intake across the day is exactly what Sumo wrestlers do to gain weight,” said Shea. “So, it seems likely that the internal circadian system helps with efficient food storage. While this may have been valuable throughout evolution, nowadays it is likely to contribute to the national epidemic of obesity.”

IDEA Fitness Journal, Volume 10, Issue 7

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.