If you’ve ever stared gaping at the open fridge as the clock clicks 10 pm, there’s a solid reason why. According to a recent study by researchers at Brigham Young University, your brain may not be satisfied by the foods you reach for late at night. It’s the ultimate double whammy: When you eat late, not only do you miss out on the “food high”(a spike in brain activity that signals when your reward pathway is feeling satisfied from food), but you remain focused on snacking even more, no matter how full you feel.
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To find out why this is, researchers used MRIs to measure how subjects’ brains responded to images of high-calorie and low-calorie food at different times of day. “We want people to become aware of how different things in your environment can affect your eating habits,” says lead researcher Travis Masterson. “We’re learning that eating that piece of cake late at night actually won’t satisfy you, and it won’t give you a stop-eating signal, either.” This is another way we’re learning how the brain changes over the course of a day. “Our reward pathways might not be as active at night, so it takes more food to feel more satisfied,” says Masterson, who has adjusted his snack schedule since beginning the study. “I usually skip the dessert late at night and go for it during the day instead,” he says. “I’ve learned that I’ll feel much more fulfilled eating it earlier in the day.”