Massacring the Mogwai Myth: Why Late Night Eating Does Not Lead to Weight Gain
“And the most important thing, the one thing you must never forget: no matter how much he cries, no matter how much he begs . . . never, never feed him after midnight.”
I was seven years old when I first heard those words.
As a young film aficionado, I spent most of my youth locked up in my room, watching and reciting lines from my favorite 80’s films.
Ghostbusters, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future. The toughest part of my day was deciding what to watch next.
But within my vast collection of VHS tapes, there was one movie which I constantly had on rewind: Gremlins.
Horror, action, comedy – this movie had it all. For a six-year-old kid, it was the purest definition of perfection.
But yet, there was a problem.
One minor flaw that went unnoticed through a child’s eye but became apparent as I got older.
It was…The rule.
You must never feed him after midnight!
As a kid, this rule never bothered me much. It made as perfect sense as the existence of Santa Clause or the tooth fairy.
But through the years, the idea that eating after midnight would have some sort of drastic physiological effect on your body seemed less convincing.
I mean, what would happen if a Mogwai were to get a piece of brisket caught between his teeth? Does the rule apply if he swallowed it at 3 a.m.? Or what if he was on a transatlantic flight and crossed over different time zones. Would the onboard meal cause a similar effect? And what exactly is the cutoff point for when he could begin consuming food again?
Too many unanswered questions, if you ask me.
But, I know what you’re thinking: “Dude, it’s just a movie. Chill out.” And you’re right; this is nothing more than film fiction.
However, I bring this up because of a similar ideology surrounding late night eating that has been prevalent in the real world. But instead of going through a nasty metamorphosis, the belief is that late night eating would lead you down a rabbit hole of eternal weight gain. Or simply put: make…you…FAT.
In recent years, this belief has gained a lot of traction. This is partly due to the number of high profile celebrities, who have credited the lack of late night eating to their weight loss. Oprah, my eyes are on you.
But, if you’re serious about losing weight, is it really necessary to ditch that late night dinner? Or, is this whole late night weight gain debacle nothing more than a myth?
The Problem with The (Mogwai) Myth
If you’re like me, then the whole late night eating issue spells nothing more than bad news.
I mean, dinner and late night snacking are most likely a huge focal point in your life. These are times when you get to bond with family and friends, times when you get to unwind as you binge-watch your favorite Netflix shows. These are sacred times which beg you to break every dietary rule for the sake of…living.
And that, right there, is the problem with the Mogwai Myth. It has too tight of a restriction.
You see, when it comes to rules, one thing is for sure – they are easily broken. This is even more so with the rules that involve both your mouth and food; they usually demand way too much of you.
In fact, it’s no wonder why you might fail to shed those extra pounds or add those extra inches to your biceps. Some rules are way too difficult to stick with, and the late night eating one is no exception.
To illustrate: When was the last time you were able to stick to a diet? And I’m not talking about a month or two; I’m talking about six months to a year, max. For most of us, this is quite difficult to achieve.
But have you ever wondered why?
Why are diets easy at first, but extremely difficult as time goes by?
The answer: Too many rules.
More rules means less time for you to enjoy life, which results in you ditching your plan altogether.
You see, diet dogmas that interfere with your life are no worse than binge eating a box of donuts. While the initial reaction is great, they both leave you feeling miserable in the end. This also applies to the ones governed by time.
But, despite the misery it may cause, you can’t argue with the fact that there are still people who see progress by restricting their late night food intake. There has to be a reason for this…right?
Well, as a way of shedding light, let’s turn our attention to the smart people in the room.
The Proof is in The Science
To get a better understanding of why late night eating will not make you fat, let’s take a look at both sides of the coin. We will begin with the evidence supporting the late night eating rule.
The first one involves the biological clock within our body, called the circadian clock.
Yep, research shows we all have one. Crazy isn’t it.
The purpose of this clock is to handle the coordination of environmental changes in the day-night cycle. In fact, researchers believe this biological clock can cause hormonal disruption. In turn, this leads our body to store carbs as fat.
Further, they observed that, at night, our body’s cells become more resistant to Insulin.
What is Insulin you might ask?
Well, Insulin is a hormone responsible for getting the sugar in your blood to your body’s cells for fuel. The interesting thing is that Insulin also runs with your circadian clock.
So what does this all mean?
Well, if you’re insulin resistant, then fat will accumulate within the fat stores in your cells, resulting in, you guessed it, weight gain.
Sounds convincing, doesn’t it?
But yet, there is one slight issue.
You see, these observations were made on lab rats, and last time I checked, we aren’t part of the Rodent family. That is, unless you were exposed to mutagen ooze. In that case, then this study totally applies to you…just saying.
So bottom-line: More studies need to be observed, preferably involving humans this time.
This study (recorded by the Journal of Nutrition) observed ten overweight women, who performed a cross-over trial.
These participants were divided into two groups:
- A.M. eaters (group A)
- P.M. eaters (group B)
During the first six weeks, (group B) lost more fat.
But yet, when the groups crossed over, the now A.M. eaters (still group B) continued to see better fat loss.
The problem with this study: It was too inconclusive.
As you can see, fat loss was observed between the same group (group B), at both late night and early morning.
This is most likely explained by the high body fat percentage that group B had at the start of the trial and the fact that they lost the most fat during their initial P.M. eating. This made fat loss easier no matter what time of the day they continued eating.
So the argument that late night eating leads to weight gain is still unclear. But, you are not satisfied. You want…no, scratch that…you need more.
THIRD STUDY: The other side of the coin
The final study we will observe was conducted among 12 obese women. As part of the test, 900-1000 calories were consumed during three different periods.
Period 1: Food consumed within five meals
Period 2: Food consumed from 9am-11am
Period 3: Food consumed from 6pm-8pm
No significant change in body weight across all three tested periods.
These were real humans with an indecisive conclusion that meal timing did NOT affect weight gain.
Why Late Night Eating IS Making You Fat
So if “timing” is not the governing factor of late night weight gain, then what is?
To answer that, I would like to borrow the words of renowned nutritionist, Alan Aragon, son of Aragorn (not really his son, but does share his wisdom). Alan stated: What matters is not when you eat, but what you eat. If you eat more, then you gain more, and vice versa. Weight gain has nothing to do with the time in which you eat.
Whoa! I bet your mind was just blown. Who would have thought it would be so simple?
A perfect example of this is diners in Spain.
Unlike in America, dinners in Spain do not begin until 10 pm, yet, the obesity rate is low. This is due to internal cues as opposed to external cues. You see, Spaniards use internal cues and stop eating when they are no longer hungry. But Americans, tend to use external cues and stop eating when their plate is empty or when their favorite TV show is over. Binge watching Breaking Bad = binge eating your favorite snacks.
But that’s not all. Another governing factor is energy expenditure.
When you train in the morning, you spend energy. When you walk to work, you spend energy. When you wrestle with your kids, you spend energy, and when you sleep, you…well, you get the point. Your body is always spending energy throughout the day. And the more energy you spend, the less likely those late snacks will be converted to fat. So consuming less food than your body can burn is why some people can eat late and lose weight while others can’t.
So now that we have identified the reasoning behind the myth, the next step is to make the needed adjustments.
How You Can Eat Late and Still Look Great
Monitoring and identifying your late night eating pattern is the key to preventing overnight weight gain.
Are you a late night fridge raider? If so, are you able to draw the line and only grab items that add up to your calorie allotment for the day? Or does your fridge-raiding get out of control?
Why don’t you:
- Limit the amount of pre-processed food items that you store.
- Fill your fridge with protein packed foods, such as Greek yogurt (protein is known to keep you satiated).
- Cook your meals daily with little room for leftovers (emptier fridge).
Does your busy schedule leave dinner as the only option for consuming most of your calories? Does this turn into an all-out food assault, leaving you in a temporary coma?
A good suggestion is to plan ahead. You could do so by setting or having someone (your wife/husband) set aside the right amount of food for you. This way, you have a higher chance of hitting your total calorie allotment for the day.
Is late night gaming or Netflix only achievable with foods at arm’s reach?
A good way to overcome this, without giving up those tasty treats, is by tracking what you consume. This is not as hard as it sounds. In fact, there are many apps that can help you with this, such as “My Fitness Pal” and “OTR Macros.”
But, while there are many solutions, the best approach is to start a fitness regimen. At [Ctrl-Alt-Fit], we believe everyone should follow a nutrition and fitness plan — one that is designed to fit their individual needs and schedule. You see, getting in shape should not equal torture. This is why we love helping others to get in the best shape possible, without sacrificing the things they love, such as late night eating.
So if you are ready to take the next step and lose those extra pounds, then please visit our coaching page to find out how.
And The Final Verdict Is…….
While more studies can be conducted, the current findings are clear: it does not matter when you eat. With some careful meal planning and a good fitness regimen, your late night eating fears should be a thing of the past.
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