"Eating at night does not gain weight," under this headline were leaflets by nutritionists and fitness trainers talking about what they described as "myths" and "misconceptions" about eating late in the evening.

They stressed in their publications that the habit of eating at night is harmless, contrary to common belief, and that the issue is related to the amount of calories entering the body, and that as long as it is controlled, there is little difference between eating at night or day.

Thus, the debate arises between two groups: one sees eating at night as a "health disaster", and the other sees it as "no problem".

Why do we like to eat at night?

When everyone is asleep, 25-year-old Dina Abdel Azim gets up to the fridge and starts the very delicious task. "I used to wake up after midnight, bored and sad. I go to the fridge, open it to eat Nabulsi kunafeh, or Mawlid al-Nabi sweet, for example, to be absent in a world of happiness full of sugar."

"But I wake up to that feeling of silence, as if a mountain is suddenly over my heart, so I forget everything and only think about how I will sleep without being attacked by nightmares."

Dina is one of millions who give up eating late, without realizing what it actually means, with some reasons turning the nocturnal habit into an addiction that is difficult to quit. Among those reasons:

  • Not eating enough food throughout the day, which leads to excessive eating at night due to hunger, so it is used day after day.
  • Feeling bored and insomnia.
  • You have an eating disorder, such as binge eating or nighttime eating syndrome, and you use food to suppress feelings of sadness, anger or frustration. Eating is a psychological trick, not hunger, which necessarily leads to obesity, depression and difficulty sleeping.

"After a hearty nightmeal, every time, my thoughts are to guess which parts will receive all those extra calories, lower abdomen, thighs or whatever," Dina says. Then I quickly worry about how I'll need to blow up that accumulated fat, and I feel even more depressed."

Does eating at night gain weight?

Doaa Abdel Azim tells her story with eating syndrome at night, saying, "I don't know much about it scientifically, but what is certain is that whenever I eat at night, the fat in my lower abdomen worsens, which I suffer from a lot, with insulin resistance."

"When I succumb to that tempting taste after midnight, I end up eating a few loaves and sweetening several times, before rushing to eat a digestive, which is appetizing at the same time, only to wake up in the morning exhausted and exhausted, with a bigger belly," she explains.

Study shows that eating at night contributes to increased anxiety and depression (Shutterstock)

The world first knew about "night-eating syndrome" in 1955, with people eating 25% of their daily food after dinner.

Although proponents of the notion that there is no relationship between eating at night and weight gain are based on the fact that calories eaten at night fall within the permissible calories, and therefore will not harm, a study revealed that the issue is not directly related to weight gain, but rather something more distant and complex, as it depends on several factors, such as: how the body regulates weight, the number of calories it burns, hunger levels, and the way it stores fat.

A 2020 study showed a link between meal timing and weight gain, and confirmed that eating late is associated with an increased risk of obesity, increased body fat, and a decrease in the ability to lose weight, even with the limitation and reduction of calories.

What is the relationship between eating late and anxiety and depression?

Scientific research has ensured a link between eating at night and obesity, but could this act, whether it is a habit or a disorder, have an impact on the psychological state throughout the day?

A scientific study published last September revealed a link between the timing of eating and the possible mood effects associated with internal circadian disruption. The study selected some groups whose working conditions forced them to eat at night, and found that eating at night contributed to an increase in anxiety by 16% and depression by 26%.

Perhaps this is what prompted the authors of the study to suggest adjusting the biological clock, within weight loss plans, for good mental health and better weight loss, and that meal timing be calculated as an important aspect of nutrition.

Should you really stop eating at night?

Maha Taha wasn't a late-evening eater until she gave birth to her first child. "Eating at night has become normal, which has exacerbated my weight problem," she says. So, when I wanted to go on a weight loss diet, the first thing I changed was to eat at night."

"At first, it was not easy, especially since I was suffering from emotional insatiability, but the results were motivating, as I not only lost excess weight, but my colon condition became better, so the morning stomach pain stopped, and the episodes of emotional binge that pushed me to eat at night decreased."

Here, the question arises: should the decision be made to stop eating at night?

The answer to the "yes" question seems correct, if not because of the alarming numbers related to "obesity" around the world, then because of the psychological and physical implications. Experts advise to stop this habit by following steps, the most important of which are:

  • Determine why you eat at night, is it emotional binge, exhausting day, boredom, or other reasons?
  • Change your daily routine so that you eat enough during the day.
  • Get good sleep in order to manage appetite and weight.
  • Ask for emotional and psychological support if you need to.
  • Get rid of the things that make you feel stressed and anxious, and then push you to eat.
  • Use relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, hot bath, and yoga.
  • Get enough protein with every meal to achieve greater satiety.
  • Keep healthy snacks to resort to when necessary.