I have heard this theory A LOT and just last week this topic came up during one of my grocery store tours. A student asked if eating later in the day will cause weight gain? He said he heard that eating meat late at night, dinner at 9pm for example, will cause him to gain weight. The rationale was that his body would soon be resting and therefore not burning the recently ingested calories.
We also recently discussed this in my clinical nutrition class. It was a hot topic and everyone offered their 2 cents, which seemed to vary in opinions. So, happi readers, what do you think? Have you heard this theory before? Do you follow it?
There is no evidence to support that our bodies know the difference between 6pm and 9pm. If you eat the meal you would have been eating at 6pm at 9pm, there will be no difference. The capability of our bodies to metabolize food does not stop when we rest. Can you imagine if our hearts took a break too? No, that is not the way it works.
Weight gains and losses are the result of intake and expenditure. If your daily energy needs/goal is 1800 kcals and you have yet to reach that goal for the day, by all means- eat. You will probably need to take several things into consideration, however the fact that you are eating a later meal does not cause weight gain.
Common pitfalls of eating late:
- If you have gone from a mid-day to a late dinner, chances are, you are ravenous. This leads to poor, unhealthy food choices. Oftentimes people reach for whatever is easy and comforting. You get home late from work at 8:15- are you likely to start marinating some boneless chicken to grill? No. You might find yourself reaching for a frozen meal or fast food. These foods are typically higher in calories and fat, which can cause weight gain.
- Late night snacking is typically not provoked by hunger- but boredom and stress. Have you ever found yourself at night sitting in front of computer catching up on emails or watching the news and snacking? Chances are you probably ate more than you realize because you weren’t thinking about the snack, but several things. Your body just kept reaching for more because it was there. Not because you were necessarily hungry. Excessive calories, regardless of when they were consumed will be stored and this will cause weight gain.
- Portion size can get out of control. Again- if it has been 5-6 hours since you last ate, chances are you are very hungry. We always eat with our eyes first and you might over serve yourself. It could be a healthy food, but too much of anything is not a good thing. This can cause weight gain.
- Related to portion size, and probably the most important thing is to consider how it affects breakfast. Yes, breakfast. I always recommend eating breakfast- getting your day started with protein and fiber will give you the energy you need. Have you ever noticed that when you eat a big meal, late the night before you wake up totally uninterested in food? And when you eat early or light the night before, you wake up hungry? Try it- if you don’t know what I’m talking about. You need breakfast. So, my take home message is lighten up your dinner so you wake up hungry.
Needless to say, the student that had asked about the weight gain and eating meat had been misinformed. There are SO MANY claims about eating healthy and it can be confusing. I told the student that based on what I had learned in class and the credible sources that I take my information from, eating meat at night will NOT cause weight gain. In my experience, eating higher fat meals may cause mild digestive problems. If you decide to eat a large steak with butter mashed potatoes at 9:30pm, go for a walk before bed ss