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Late Night Cravings? Your Hormones are the Real Culprit


Anyone who has ever subscribed to a diet plan knows how the endeavor becomes more difficult as time progresses, and usually, a dieter’s willpower is named the culprit. Of course, that is the easiest conclusion, as subscribing to a diet plan is a matter of commitment and dedication. However, a recent study has concluded that the problem may be with the hormones, especially those responsible for triggering feelings of hunger or fullness inside a person.

What happens to our hormones at night?

Researchers have found that those who were overweight and in the habit of eating late at night were most impacted by this hormonal change

The study, which was conducted with a sample size of 32 obese individuals, composed of 50% of those who were in the habit of eating late at night and 50% of  those who did not, identified changes in the hormones responsible for causing hunger and those responsible for causing fullness. The hunger hormones increased as the day progressed towards nightfall, while the satiety hormone decreased. The study also observed that this phenomenon was accentuated in stressful situations.

Hormonal Changes Could Be a Catalyst to Eating Late at Night

According to Susan Carnell, who is an assistant professor at the John Hopkins University teaching psychiatry as well as behavioral sciences, the trouble lies with the increased opportunities to eat at night, as a person has more free time and easy access to a kitchen.

This opportunity is made more attractive with the changes in hormones, compelling a person to indulge in a late-night snack. However, according to Carnell, it is still debatable whether the hormonal changes cause the eating behavior, or the eating behavior causes the hormones to change over time. Regardless, it is a vicious cycle that a person can easily get trapped in, one from which escape is very difficult.

It Can Become Very Difficult to Fight the Urge

Studies have suggested that losing excess weight is not only a matter of willpower, but also a battle against the hormones that control this aspect

This study is important because it shows that those who suffer from obesity may find it very difficult to subscribe to healthy eating diet plans. According to Kelly Allison, Director at Centre for Weight and Eating Disorders (University of Pennsylvania), it is important to understand that losing excess weight is not only a matter of willpower, but also a battle against the biological make of every individual person.

The findings, published on December last year in International Journal of Obesity, builds on the findings of an earlier 2013 study conducted by Harvard. The 2013 study was conducted with a sample composed of individuals belonging to the normal weight class, and concluded that there was a direct connection between the circadian rhythms and the appetite of an individual.

It showed that hunger was at the highest as the day concluded, while lowest as the morning sun came up, even though people are well stuffed by night time and starved after a good night’s sleep. This is why many people skip breakfast, as they simply don’t feel hungry, even though studies have shown that taking in most number of calories recommended per day during breakfast is the healthiest choice as it regulates metabolism and helps achieve optimal weight.

Evolution May Also Share the Blame

Stress plays a key role in increasing the hunger hormone, especially during the night

Dr. Satchidananda Panda, who is a professor at the Salk Institute in San Diego, has linked evening hunger with evolution. He suggests that, during prehistoric times, people did not have access to meals after evening, and so the hunger hormones peaked during this time to encourage people to consume food to get through the night when food options are the scarcest. That is how people in those times survived. However, now that access to food is no longer difficult for most people, this same survival instinct is backfiring, causing people to consume more food than they need.

Stress Also Plays a Key Role in Hunger

The recent study also highlighted stress as playing a key role in increasing the hunger hormone during the night. Participants in the study who were deliberately exposed to stressful situations showed heightened hunger hormones than those who were not.

Is there a Solution?

Yes, there is. According to Dr. Allison, the solution lies in defeating the biological urge to consume food, which can be achieved by setting a bedtime regime that forbids consumption of food after you brush your teeth. If you feel hungry, Dr. Allison recommends having a glass of water and nothing else. A bed time routine that disallows eating after brushing your teeth could help you discourage yourself from consuming any more meals during the night, allowing you to have a better appetite after you wake up.

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