Does Eating Late Really Lead to Gaining Weight?

We all hold on to the fantasy of a family sit down dinner. The sun is just setting and everyone’s gathered around a beautifully decorated table, enjoying friendly conversation and a well-balanced delicious meal, which you can immediately smell upon entering the front door. However, in the words of John Lennon, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.” In our case, life interferes with our dinner plans, and our well-crafted 6 o’clock family dinner soon turns into a solo 10 o’clock pantry raid. For me, those 10 o’clock “meals” are an unfortunate reality. My job doesn’t permit me to get home until 10, sometimes 11 o’clock at night, which means my dinner isn’t until 10, sometimes 11 o’clock at night. Often times I’ll cook whatever is easiest, usually “brinner” (breakfast for dinner). Not so well balanced, but man does it taste good.

However, this routine got me to thinking…how bad for me is eating this late? I mean, I’ve heard late dinners constitute a slap on the wrist in the health world, but should we really eat nothing at all? This question turned out to be a lot more complicated to answer than I expected. There has been intense debate over whether eating late will lead to weight gain or not. Some say eating after 8 pm. will cause fat formation, while others believe a calorie is a calorie, no matter what time you consume it. So who do we believe? Well, turns out, both or sort of right in a way. Let me explain.

Imagine this scenario: You wake up around 8am after a great nights rest. You make yourself a delicious breakfast full of protein and slow burning carbohydrates. You run through your daily errands: shopping, working out, cleaning, etc. while fitting in an apple as a snack. Then, as you enter the afternoon you eat another well-balanced and delicious meal for lunch. When you’re finished you get ready for work and head out for the night. As you bust your hump at work you find it difficult to eat, aside from some almond butter topped celery sticks, so when you get home around 10 at night you’re famished and you dive into your third well balanced meal (dinner) like it’s the first and last meal you will ever eat! Putting time of day aside, do you notice anything wrong with this eating schedule? You have eaten your normal daily caloric intake: two small healthy snacks and three well balanced meals. In this case, those “a calorie is a calorie” people would be right. You’re body is still processing the same amount of calories in the same way as it would had you eaten them earlier. In fact, The Dunn Nutrition Center in Cambridge performed a study supporting this theory. Their research showed no correlation in weight gain and the time of day calories were consumed.

However, I did say both schools of thought were right in a way. So, in which way would those who claim eating after 8pm is bad for you be right? Say you follow the same above scenario but this time you squeeze in a quick Tupperware dinner around 8pm when things die down at work. However, you still get home around 10pm and find yourself staring into your fridge like the next academy award winning movie were playing in there. Not wanting to consume another meal you snack on a few things. A bit of a cookie, a banana, a few bites of a leftover chicken breast, etc. Boom! That’s where the weight gain comes in. You were doing so well calorie wise by eating your two snacks and three well balanced meals at the proper times. However, because you stayed up so late past your last 8pm meal, you found yourself hungry again. Worse yet, because you ate again, you just overate and consumed too many calories for the day.

Long story short, eating late shouldn’t ruin your weight loss goal as long as you are still consuming the proper amount of calories per day. However, if eating late leads you to overeating, then consider your weight loss plan officially off track. Knowing eating late isn’t the worst thing I could do to my body is good news for me as long as I plan accordingly. Now I don’t have to stress over when I’m eating and I know to bring my second snack with me to work to hold me over until I can make myself a well-balanced dinner upon my arrival home. I suppose that means no more brinner for me.

About Dish Out The Skinny

I am currently a certified personal trainer on the challenging and rewarding path to becoming a registered dietitian. Life is hard enough...staying healthy doesn't have to be! With the ever changing "rules" to staying healthy, my goal is to create a simple blog so that the average person, like myself, can understand the ins and outs of the world that is fitness and nutrition.
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