A recent study shed some light on what makes midnight snacks so terribly irresistible. Everybody’s been there, in front of the fridge as if pushed by some unearthly presence, in the need of a slice of pizza, some ice cream, a piece of pie or even some leftover Chinese food.
Midnight snacks are extremely tempting, making you feel like you absolutely need, not want, some high-calorie food. And while the anticipation is set for a glorious meal that will make your taste buds go wild with pleasure, somehow it always seems like the slice of pizza was too small or that the ice cream was just not enough.
The aftermath however never misses the opportunity to make its appearance and there you are, with a full belly, a very dim memory of the infamous meal and with an ongoing craving for something else from the fridge.
Does that sound familiar? Well, the scientists at Brigham Young University definitely seem to think so, because they dedicated an entire study to midnight snacks. They were determined to find out why we make such bad culinary decisions when the sun goes down.
So they took 15 women and used an MRI machine to examine their brains while they were being showed 360 pictures of very different types of food, ranging from low calorie food, like vegetables and fruit to high calorie food, like all the delicious junk food and sweets that you can think of. This experiment was first conducted in the morning and then was repeated a week later at night.
What the scientists observed was that in the evening, the subjects responded with a higher reward-related activity towards high-calorie food during the day than at night. This made scientists hypothesize that at night we do not get the same satisfaction response from food that we do during the day and therefore need to consume more food in order to not feel hungry.
What that they believe is causing this difference of reaction is exactly the amount of light, that affects how we end up seeing and ultimately experiencing our meals.
Previous studies have demonstrated the importance of sight during the feeding process. This means that seeing your food is almost as important as smelling it and even tasting it. A group of subjects were assessed while consuming a standardized meal plan while blindfolded and another group was assessed eating the exact same food without a blindfold.
They found out that despite the fact that both groups described the sensation of fullness almost the same, the ones who were blindfolded were less satisfied with their food.Therefore, the lack of light renders a poor image of the food to the brain, making the satisfaction level drop considerably.
“You might over-consume at night because food is not as rewarding, at least visually, at that time of day,”, said Travis Masterson, the author of the Brigham Young University study.
Aside from this there are other factors, like depression, that might contribute to the craving sensation. And since depression becomes accentuated at night, also as a consequence of the light shortage, so do the food cravings. This happens because the satisfaction offered by food is perceived as necessary to better the psychological state of the person.
The scientists at Brigham Young University did not however explain how to battle midnight snacks. So with a strong will and a nutritious breakfast as your allies, try not to give in to the temptations that fill your fridge at night!
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