Where the Science of Psychology Meets the Art of Being Human

The Surprising Thing That Sabotages Weight Loss. (It’s an easy one to stop.)


Shopping when hungry generally doesn’t end well. High calorie food tends to find its way in and more money than expected tends to find its way out.

Shopping when tired seems to have the same effect.

New research has found that people bought more food and more high-calorie food when they shopped after a poor night’s sleep compared to a night they slept well.

What They Did

The study involved 14 men who were asked to shop for groceries on two separate occasions, both times with the equivalent of $50 to spend. The first time was on the morning after a sound sleep and the other was after a sleepless night. The were given a list of 20 high calorie foods and 20 low calorie foods, with the instruction to buy as much as they could of the possible 40 items.

The men were well fed before the grocery shop to sideline any possibility of hunger influencing their shop.

What They Found

When sleep deprived, the men purchased more calories and grams of food than they did after a good night’s sleep.

It’s widely accepted that poor sleep is related to weight gain, and one way seems to be through the influence on food choices.

According to Harvard Medical School, other ways lack of sleep may contribute to weight gain are by:

  • slowing metabolism;
  • influencing cells to store carbs as fat rather than burn it off;
  • compromising the cells’ response to insulin, increasing the level of sugar and insulin in the bloodstream;
  • lowering levels of leptin, (a hormone that suppresses appetite), and increasing ghrelin (a hormone that stimulates appetite).

So what does this mean for everyday living?

Clearly behavior plays an important role in weight management and weight gain.

If possible, avoid the grocery shops if you’re hungry and if you’ve had less than 7 hours sleep.

Being sleepy can tend to throw behavior on autopilot – the enemy of weight control, with the influence not only being on what we put in our mouths, but what goes into our trolley too. For other ways weight loss is sabotaged – and how to stop it – see here.

This adds to an ever growing list of rather excellent things that sleep can do if it’s given uninterrupted free reign for a good seven hours or so. Now, if only life would play nicely and let the seven hours happen.

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