The next morning you wake up full of remorse and ready to take charge of your weight. You skip breakfast, eat a light lunch . . . and the cycle continues. If this sounds like you, you could be characterized as a 'night eater.' You eat most of your food toward the end of the day.
Many Canadians have an eating pattern similar to this. Dietitians refer to it as the 'Night Eating Syndrome.' The day starts by skipping meals (or eating very small amounts of food in the early part of the day). By mid-afternoon, a ravenous appetite may lead to uncontrolled snacking just before supper. Supper is very large, in proportion to the other meals of the day, followed by continuous snacking in the evening until bedtime.
We all know that reducing calories will promote weight loss. But remember, it is the total calories for the day that must be reduced. Even if we go hungry during part of the day, there will be no weight loss if we overload our calories for the rest of the day. Furthermore, consuming most of those calories within the last few hours of the day will actually promote weight gain. Our bodies are not equipped to burn the calories from a big meal efficiently, especially at night. Many of these calories are destined to become stored as fat.
Metabolism refers to the building and breakdown of substances in body tissues. Your body burns food for the energy to fuel these and all other life processes.
The rate and efficiency of metabolism will vary from person to person and depends on your genetics, sex, age, level of activity and individual eating habits. The metabolism works much like an internal furnace or engine – it needs a constant fuel supply to work well. When the body is deprived of food, even for short periods of time, the metabolism automatically changes and slows to conserve precious resources – body muscle and fat.
It is estimated that metabolic rates are decreased by as much as five percent in people who skip meals, specifically breakfast. Breakfast skippers who become night eaters struggle with their weight more often because the internal engine does not have food to get it turned on effectively in the morning.
The slower internal fire along with most calories consumed in the evening hours causes reduced energy through the day. A feeling of lowered energy often leads to reduced activity and increased fat storage. On and on and on goes the cycle. As a result of this metabolic slump, a breakfast skipper could expect to gain one pound in seven weeks - even without increasing calorie intake!
Many people believe it is inevitable that they will gain weight as they grow older but this is not correct. The weight gain we see with aging is not due to slowed metabolism. It occurs because as we get older we are less active. We lose muscle mass and replace this with fat. Each year after the age of 25, the average adult loses about half a pound of muscle. Muscle has high energy needs. A pound of muscle burns 35 calories a day at rest and a pound of fat burns a mere two calories.
So if you have lots of flab where there once were firm muscles, your body does not need as many calories as it once did. The bottom line is this: the more muscle you have, the more you can eat. Fortunately, muscle can be built and fat can be burned with increased activity.
There is good news. Idle engines can be revved up! The first thing to do is start turning the day around so that you get most of your calories before your evening meal. This means eating breakfast and turning the ignition key early in the day.
If you are not a breakfast person, focus on getting the habit in place, worry about the contents later. Something high in carbohydrates and low in fat is a great choice - maybe leftovers from supper or even a low fat bagel pizza. If your morning appetite is small, try fruit with low fat milk. The main purpose is to start the engine.
Next, do not go too long without eating. You should have a substantial lunch with supper approximately the same size. If the time frame is longer than four hours between meals then a snack (matched to your hunger at that particular time) is essential. The purpose of a snack is to keep metabolism revved, to satisfy emotional and physical needs and most importantly, to help reduce those large meals that contribute to fat gain.
What about night snacking? A night snack is not a no-no if it is chosen wisely and is part of the total daily plan. It can even be a benefit if it helps to reduce supper portions. But remember - too much food at night is not used efficiently. If the evening is a problem for you and you want to snack continually, try to avoid the temptations - TV commercials, eating out of boredom, tasty high fat snacks waiting in the cupboard. Make a major change in your snacking selections - keep lower fat snacks on hand,keep yourself busy. This may be the perfect time to go for a walk to burn calories and improve and maintain muscle tone.