DR MICHAEL MOSLEY: How to diet without even noticing? Don't eat after 7.30pm

When our kids were young my wife Clare and I were often so busy in the early evening — feeding them, putting them to bed and reading them stories — that we’d end up collapsed in front of the TV, before then cooking the evening meal. This meant we’d often find ourselves eating well after 9pm.

But more recently we’ve made an effort to start eating our dinner by 7.30pm, as well as avoiding too many late-night snacks.

Doing so is almost certainly good for the waistline, as a recent study from the University of Nottingham and Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran confirmed.

What is clear from many studies is that our bodies don’t like having to deal with lots of food late at night. A midnight snack will have a worse impact on you than the same food eaten earlier in the day [File photo]

What is clear from many studies is that our bodies don’t like having to deal with lots of food late at night. A midnight snack will have a worse impact on you than the same food eaten earlier in the day [File photo]

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The researchers had asked 82 healthy but overweight women to go on a weight-loss programme — the women didn’t normally finish their evening meals until well after 10pm, but now half were asked to finish their eating by 7.30pm at the latest.

After 12 weeks both groups had lost weight, but those who changed to eating earlier in the evening had lost an average of 15lb, compared with less than 11lb for the late eaters. In other words, just by changing the time they ate the early eaters had shed an extra 4lb. They also lost an extra inch around the waist and experienced greater improvements in their cholesterol and blood fats.

This wasn’t because the later-eating group consumed more — the two groups essentially had the same calorie intake. Instead, the researchers think that, among other things, late-night eating might affect the genes that control your body clock, leading to a greater risk of obesity (and type 2 diabetes).

I wasn’t entirely surprised by this because a few years ago, as part of a science documentary, I did an experiment where I ate a classic British fry-up, with lots of bacon, eggs and sausage, at 10am and then again at 10pm.

Straight after my morning meal I had a blood sample taken, and then again every half-hour for the next few hours. 

After that, I had nothing but water until 10pm, when I had exactly the same meal. Again, my blood was taken regularly over the next few hours.

More recently we’ve made an effort to start eating our dinner by 7.30pm, as well as avoiding too many late-night snacks. Doing so is almost certainly good for the waistline, as a recent study from the University of Nottingham and Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran confirmed [File photo]

More recently we’ve made an effort to start eating our dinner by 7.30pm, as well as avoiding too many late-night snacks. Doing so is almost certainly good for the waistline, as a recent study from the University of Nottingham and Tehran University of Medical Sciences in Iran confirmed [File photo]

When the results of the blood tests came back, they were pretty shocking. After eating a full English fry-up in the morning my blood sugar and fat levels quickly rose, but soon returned to normal as my body used them as fuel, or stored them around my gut for later.

What happened in the evening, however, was very different. Despite eating exactly the same meal, my blood sugar levels went up and stayed high for several hours. The fat levels in my blood were even worse, still rising at 2am, four hours after I’d finished eating. And the next morning I woke up feeling knackered — and starving.

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Further proof that late-night eating really does alter your ability to handle food comes from a recent study by Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in the U.S., which found that when healthy volunteers had their dinner within an hour of going to bed, they burnt 10 per cent less fat overnight than when they stopped eating three hours before shut-eye.

What is clear from many studies is that our bodies don’t like having to deal with lots of food late at night. A midnight snack will have a worse impact on you than the same food eaten earlier in the day.

Not only is this because late-night eating alters your body clock, but it also seems to alter your microbiome, the 100 trillion microbes that live in your gut. Eating late encourages the growth of ‘bad’ microbes that raise inflammation (long term, a risk for health as it damages healthy tissue).

Finally, we know that your gut needs downtime, to get on with essential repairs. It is a bit

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