Have you ever heard the advice, “Never eat at night because the calories will be stored as fat”?
It makes sense…you aren’t active at night, so if you eat a ton of calories, more of those calories will be available to be stored away, after all, you won’t be burning them because you’ll be sleeping…
So, let’s take a minute and explore this topic to see if it’s true, and, if it is, what to do about it…
Leptin Pattern and Night Time Hunger
Leptin is a hormone that plays a critical role in controlling hunger and metabolism. In a healthy person, when leptin levels are high, your brain gets the signal that the body is well fed and that there’s no need to eat. Simultaneously, high leptin triggers your fat metabolism to increase, which helps to get rid of that spare tire that has plagued you.
The science of leptin is very, very complicated, but for now, you just need to know two things…
- High leptin = Low Hunger and Lots of Fat Burning
- Low Leptin = High Hunger and Little Fat Burning
Now, remember, that the above only applies to a body that is in biochemical balance, more on this in a minute…
As with many things in our body, there’s a natural rhythm to leptin production. A healthy person will enjoy high leptin levels at night and low levels in the morning. The result SHOULD BE…low hunger and high fat metabolism as you get ready for bed. This makes sense because us scrawny little humans probably should not be out foraging for food in the jungle when nocturnal man-eaters, such as lions, tigers, and bears are looking for a nice, plump human to invite to dinner…and not in a good way.
The human ancestors who were nocturnal eaters likely fell victim to natural selections as they wandered innocently into the mouth of a hungry panther before their nocturnal genetic “oats” could be sowed throughout the species.
So, we evolved to be hungry in the morning and not so hungry at night…at least, that’s how it should work…
Let me go out on a limb and see if I can describe your pattern…
Around 4 pm, cravings for sugary or sweet things begin to strike. You eat dinner, which normally consists of a protein and a starch, and then bedtime rolls around and you’re hungry again.
When you awaken in the morning, after a somewhat non-refreshing night of sleep, you feel either mildly hungry or not hungry at all. You certainly don’t feel the level of hunger that you feel at night.
How’d I do? Was I at least close?
Many of our clients describe feeling starving at night, and so they binge. When we look at their food diaries, we notice that they’re eating like a bird in the morning and a bear at night! I call this the “Bird-Bear Pattern”. When we ask why they don’t eat breakfast or, if they eat a mild breakfast, why they only eat a hard boiled egg and a cup of coffee, they say, “I’m just not hungry in the morning.”
All this points to a condition called “leptin resistance”.
When researchers discovered leptin, they were ecstatic! They thought that they had found the cure for obesity. In fat rats, leptin levels were almost nonexistent and when they injected the fat rats with leptin, they got skinny. So, they figured that, like the fat rats, all they had to do was inject leptin into overweight humans and the leptin would control hunger and increase fat metabolism.
Unfortunately, it failed miserably. Leptin injection had no effect, primarily because unlike the fat rats, overweight folks didn’t have too little leptin in their blood, they had too much!
Just like type II diabetics are producing too much insulin because their cells are resistant to insulin, so too are overweight folks were producing too much leptin because their cells are resistant to leptin!
What Does All This Have to Do With My Nighttime Hunger?
Do you remember when I told you that you should have high leptin at night and low leptin in the morning? Well, in all likelihood your body isn’t following that pattern. You’re problem is…
Your leptin levels are high all of the time and because of it, you suffer with leptin resistance, and because of THAT you’re hungry when you shouldn’t be and your body can’t seem to burn fat.
Ah ha! That’s Why I’m Hungry At Night!
Yep, AND that’s why many of you are hungry ALL DAY LONG! Due to leptin resistance, your brain never gets the signal to turn off the hunger signal!
9 Out Of 10 Fitness Experts Tell You To Not Eat After Dinner…and 9 Out of 10 Are WRONG!
I have good news, you’re not lazy. You’re not weak willed. You’re not an “Epic Failure” as one of our listeners referred to herself for her nighttime eating pattern…
You’re eating at night because you’re biologically starving!
Leptin runs the show, listen to me when I tell you that you will not win a fight against leptin. Leptin likely precedes cockroaches from the perspective of evolution. Your body and your brain was built around the framework of leptin and when it’s in control, you can’t “will” yourself to defy its orders, at least not for long!
Thin people don’t binge eat at night, it makes logical sense to want to mimic that characteristic. Many experts tell their clients to force themselves to go hungry at night, that’s misguided advice. We do want to mimic the action of thin people (i.e. not eating at night), we want to mimic their hormonal pattern! They aren’t thin because they don’t eat at night, they are thin because their hormones are in balance, and because their hormones are in balance…they don’t feel compelled to eat at night. Right now, you have a very primal compulsion to eat when you shouldn’t; that compulsion is fueled by hormones. Fix the hormones so that the compulsion disappears.
In other words, mimic the hormonal pattern of thin people so that you don’t have to battle constantly to resist eating at night! Going to bed starving is one of the most uncomfortable feelings in the world – why would you sentence yourself to such a fate?
How Do You Get Rid of Leptin Resistance?
Simple…follow the advice given in the podcast. Here are some specific recommendations to implement right away:
- Eat a BIG breakfast. Skipping breakfast is a highway to leptin resistance. It’s not enough to eat a hard-boiled egg and a cup of coffee. The average person needs to get between 400 and 600 calories at breakfast, minimum.
- Make protein the centerpiece. Leptin resistance and insulin resistance go hand-in-hand. Where you find one, you often find the other. Make sure that protein comprises the focus of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
- Eat most of your carbs at breakfast and lunch and no starchy carbs at dinner. If you get a solid breakfast, the carb cravings should dissipate in the evening. When this happens, you know that leptin is beginning to normalize.
- If you’re hungry at night, snack on some protein and/or non-starchy veggies. We want to try to avoid spiking the insulin, especially at night.
- Try Branched Chain Amino Acids before bed. 5 grams of BCAA’s taken nightly may help to control cravings. An alternative to the bitter BCAAs may be a whey protein shake, taken preemptively, BEFORE THE CRAVINGS STRIKE. For example, if you know that you’re due for cravings between 7-8 pm, then you may take a protein shake or BCAAs at or just before 7 pm.
- Don’t snack on foods that spike insulin. Snack on protein or veggies. Fruit may be used as a nighttime snack if you are “desperate” for something sweet. Eventually though, you should be able to phase out the fruit carbs as well.