Can’t stop eating in the evening?

Can’t stop eating in the evening?

Do you come home from work and immediately head to the kitchen to grab some grub? Is your evening date with your DVR not complete without some sort of snack?

Your hormones may play a big role, according to a new study.

Researchers sought to determine how time of day affects our appetites and the role stress plays.

Thirty-two adults between the ages of 18 and 50 participated in two experiments; in one, they fasted overnight for eight hours and consumed a liquid meal consisting of about 600 calories at 9 am. In the second, they fasted for eight hours and received their liquid meal at 4 pm.

After the liquid meals, participants endured a stress test, in which their non-dominant hand was placed in cold water for two minutes. The researchers then analyzed levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, and the hunger hormones, ghrelin and peptide YY (PYY), in the participants’ blood.

When participants consumed the liquid meal in the afternoon and endured the stress test, they reported being hungrier than if they consumed it in the morning and endured the stress test. The researchers reported levels of ghrelin (hunger causing hormone) were increased in the evening, and levels of PYY (hunger suppressor) were decreased in the evening. They also noted an increase in cortisol (stress hormone) in the afternoon. They noted these hormones that indicate to people they are hungry are elevated in the evening.

Because of this, researchers believe we are more likely to overeat in the evening.

In both experiments, stress caused increased hunger.

Dr. Dadhija Patel, internal medicine physician with Advocate Medical Group, reiterates that stress plays a major role in our eating habits, but she says the study is limited.

“It only looked at ghrelin levels twice a day. Knowing that ghrelin is associated with stress levels can help us in connecting our eating habits with stress,” she says.

“It’s important to identify ways to deal with daily stress and enforce healthy eating habits (eating small meals 4-5 times a day) to keep our appetite satisfied. Identifying both factors can potentially help avoid overeating.”

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  1. Fasting overnight and fasting during the day when you are very active are way different. I’m not sure we can definitely say that it’s stress that causes hunger after a long day, rather it could just be the body’s natural cycle? When asleep, your body is in rest and digest mode and the body is actually making energy for you during this time, so it makes sense that a meal in the morning would be very satisfying and filling after a sleeping fast during the night. Conversely, the other participants fasted during their waking hours, then had their hunger hormone levels measured after their body had been in energy-consuming state all day, with an active mind and body working. Of course these people would feel more hungry since they spent 8 hours being active rather than sleeping. The study might have had a better insight if all the participants were either sleeping/fasting for 8 hours or awake/fasting for 8 hours prior to having their levels measured. Stress comes with being awake and being active during the day, so naturally those being active during 8 hours would experience more stress/hunger and those waking up after a night of rest would have less stress/hunger.

About the Author

Holly Brenza
Holly Brenza

Holly Brenza, health enews contributor, is the public affairs coordinator at Advocate Children's Hospital. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago. In her free time, Holly enjoys reading, watching the White Sox and Blackhawks, playing with her dog, Bear and running her cats' Instagram account, @strangefurthings.