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November 19, 2022 3 min read

Obesity is a serious epidemic afflicting an estimated 650 million adults worldwide, including 42% of the adult US population [1].
Obesity is a chief contributor to the global burden of chronic disease and disability, as it raises the risk for a multitude of health issues including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and COVID-19 mortality [2].

For this reason, prevention and treatment of obesity has been recognized as a global imperative.

Besides energy intake and exercise, one of the key factors that is recognized to contribute to obesity risk is the circadian timing system, which is tightly interwoven with energy metabolism. The effect of the circadian system and its interaction with time of eating on metabolism has been demonstrated at the whole-body physiology level [3] and at the molecular level, in fat cells [4].

Therefore, the circadian timing of food intake has been proposed as a potential factor that may alter energy balance and act as a key modifiable risk factor for obesity.

So one of the questions is about late night eating. Is eating late bad for you? 

Few studies have comprehensively investigated the effects of late eating on body weight (obesity risk), regulation of calorie intake, the number of calories you burn and molecular changes in fat tissue.

To investigate these questions, a very well controlled and recent study conducted an in-laboratory randomized crossover trial to simultaneously determine the effects of late meal timing on mechanisms involved in energy intake control, energy expenditure, and molecular regulation of adipose tissue metabolism.

The aim was to investigate the direct effect of meal timing, without any other confounding behavioral and environmental factors.  

Therefore, this study rigorously controlled for timing, amount, and type of food intake (total caloric intake and dietary composition), physical activity, posture, sleep, and light exposure. Although not the first randomized crossover study to investigate the effect of late meal timing related to energy balance control, it is arguably the most well controlled and comprehensive investigation.

Key findings

This research sheds some light on meal timing by demonstrating that when we eat significantly impacts our energy expenditure, appetite, and molecular pathways in adipose tissue.

Eating more of your calorie intake later in the evening demonstrated:

  • Profound effects on hunger and appetite-regulating hormones (i.e. Leptin) that increase our drive to eat more food.
  • Calories are burned at a slower rate when we eat later at night.
  • Which in turn increases gene expression towards fat storage and reduced fat burning, so we store more of those calories as fat!

In summary, this research provides strong evidence indicating that late eating causes decreased energy expenditure, increased hunger, and changes in fat tissue that combined may increase obesity risk.

Keep in mind that this research was done on overweight or obese individuals, who were classified by their higher body mass index (BMI).  

It is not clear if these same results would have been seen in leaner, more muscular individuals, but this study was extremely well-conducted by controlling for a multitude of confounding variables.  

It’s very clear that the later eating altered adipose gene expression; therefore, increasing the propensity for adipogenesis (i.e. fat storage).

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1.    Vujovic, N., et al., Late isocaloric eating increases hunger, decreases energy expenditure, and modifies metabolic pathways in adults with overweight and obesity. Cell Metab, 2022. 34(10): p. 1486-1498 e7.
2.    Clemmensen, C., M.B. Petersen, and T.I.A. Sorensen, Will the COVID-19 pandemic worsen the obesity epidemic? Nat Rev Endocrinol, 2020. 16(9): p. 469-470.
3.    Chellappa, S.L., et al., Daytime eating prevents internal circadian misalignment and glucose intolerance in night work. Sci Adv, 2021. 7(49): p. eabg9910.
4.    Arredondo-Amador, M., et al., Circadian Rhythms in Hormone-sensitive Lipase in Human Adipose Tissue: Relationship to Meal Timing and Fasting Duration. J Clin Endocrinol Metab, 2020. 105(12).

Dr. Paul Henning

About Dr. Paul

I'm currently an Army officer on active duty with over 15 years of experience and also run my own health and wellness business. The majority of my career in the military has focused on enhancing Warfighter health and performance. I am passionate about helping people enhance all aspects of their lives through health and wellness. Learn more about me