“Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar.”
When we were kids, the above sentence was the cornerstone of EVERY dieting advice. We believed that the proper way to eat was to have large meals during the day and eat next to nothing at night. Over the years, this little nugget of “wisdom” went unchallenged (like many others). Today, it has evolved into the most popular dieting advice in the weight loss industry; “Don’t eat at night before bed.”
Everyone from obscure fitness blogs to popular YouTube fitness gurus swears by this, and they advise everyone to do the same. In fact, in the weight loss industry, eating at night is the new boogeyman. However, how true is this? Does eating before bed lead to weight gain? Do we have some internal alarm clocks that magically track the time we eat? What about the total number of calories consumed? Isn’t weight gain caused by eating more calories than the body needs?
This article separates myth from fact and gets to the bottom of the truth about late-night eating.
Eating at Night: Any Truth to The Claims?
Many experts support the notion that eating at night causes weight gain. They say that eating late at night goes against our circadian rhythm (the circadian rhythm is the 24-hour cycle that tells your body when to sleep, wake, and eat). According to them, people who eat before bed gain more weight. This is regardless of the total calories they consume daily. Their reason for this is that your body is meant to rest at night. So, it doesn’t expend energy in burning calories from nighttime snacks. Rather, it converts and stores them as fat.
In truth, several studies support these claims. But there’s just one small problem. These “studies” which show links between weight gain and meal timing, were done on mice! Yes. Mice. None of these studies involved humans! Since mice have a different metabolism from ours, it is impossible to conclude based on those studies.
What Does Science Say?
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “it does not matter what time of the day you eat. It is what and how much you eat and how much physical activity you do during the whole day that determines whether you gain, lose, or maintain your weight.”
The above is the simple, unvarnished truth about weight gain/loss and meal timing. The time of the day you eat has nothing to do with whether you gain or lose weight. Why? It all comes down to the calories. In previous articles, we explained that weight gain depends on the number of calories you consume. If you eat more than your recommended daily calories, you add weight – regardless of when you eat. If you consume less than your maintenance calories, you lose weight. It’s that simple. Eating more calories will always lead to weight gain. It doesn’t matter the time of the day you eat them.
It may be true that, on average, late-night eaters tend to add more weight than other people. But there are other reasons for this, and none of them include the time of the day.
The first is the fact that you’re more likely to OVEREAT when you eat late at night. Remember, most people have no idea of what their maintenance calories are. The few who do, don’t take the pains to track the total calories they consume at every meal. So, unless your late-night meal is your first meal of the day, you’re very likely to overeat. Why? You must have consumed your maintenance calories earlier in the day. This is the strongest explanation for why it seems eating at night causes weight gain.
Many late-night eaters also have unhealthy eating habits. Your favourite night snacks like chips, ice cream, and cookies pack more calories than many full meals. Since bedtime snacks aren’t filling, you can eat over 1000 calories in one sitting without knowing!
A single scoop of Ben & Jerry’s Ice cream has over 200 calories. A single serving (two tablespoons) of peanut butter has 188 calories. Depending on the size/weight, one slice of pizza has between 285 to 700 calories. Do you see where we’re going with this? It is almost impossible to use only a single serving of peanut butter. No one, literally no one, takes only one scoop of ice cream.
So, there you have it. Eating late at night has no direct link to whether or not you add weight. However, this does not mean late-night eating doesn’t come with other problems. According to research, eating late increases blood sugar levels, heart diseases, and acidity. It can also affect your sleeping patterns and increase the risks of impaired memory.
Weight loss remedies are more popular than ever today, and right now, it’s almost impossible to separate genuine advices from unproven myths. As a general rule, our weight loss advice would always be “Go to the gym, burn calories, and eat healthy foods.” This is far more effective in helping people lose weight than trying to regulate the time people eat. Remember, a healthy and sustainable lifestyle would always take you further than any dieting fad ever would.