Is it True That Eating Late at Night Leads to Weight Gain?
Many people are concerned about gaining weight if they eat after a certain time. One common recommendation is to avoid eating after 8 p.m., but this advice is misleading. In reality, when it comes to eating, what you eat is far more important than when you eat.
Your Circadian Rhythm and Eating
Animal studies suggest that the body may use consumed calories differently after a certain time of day, leading to the belief that eating late at night makes you gain weight.
Some scientists believe that eating late at night disrupts your circadian rhythm, which is a 24-hour cycle that tells your body when to sleep, eat, and wake up. Nighttime is for sleeping, not eating, according to your circadian rhythm.
This theory is supported by a number of animal studies. Even if they eat the same amount of food, mice who eat against their circadian rhythm gain significantly more weight than mice who only eat during waking hours. However, not all human studies back up this theory.
In fact, human studies show that it’s not so much when you eat as it is how much you eat that matters. A study of over 1600 children, for example, found no link between eating dinner after 8 p.m. and being overweight. Late eaters did not appear to consume more total calories in this study.
Researchers observed the eating habits of 52 adults and discovered that those who ate after 8 p.m. consumed more total calories than those who ate earlier. Late eaters may gain weight over time as a result of the extra calories they consume.
Overall, weight gain does not appear to be caused solely by eating late at night when your total calorie intake is within your daily needs.
Late eaters tend to consume more calories.
One explanation for the link between late-night eating and weight gain is that late-night eaters tend to consume more calories overall. Regardless of when you eat more calories than you need, you will gain weight.
Researchers studied the relationship between meal timing and total calorie intake in 59 people, for example. People who ate their last meal closer to bedtime consumed more calories overall than those who ate their last meal earlier (8Trusted Source).
Another study discovered that people who ate between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. consumed 500 calories more per day than those who ate during the day. The average nighttime eater gained 10 pounds over time (4.5 kilograms). Thus, eating late at night may result in weight gain only if you consume an excessive amount of calories.
Food Choices May Be Affected by
Late Eating eaters not only consume more food, but they also make poorer food choices.
You may be more prone to eating unhealthy, calorie-dense foods at night. Chips, soda, and ice cream are examples of foods with little nutritional value. There could be a variety of reasons for this. Late-night eaters, for example, may not have easy access to healthy food.
People who work night shifts are an excellent example. Many studies suggest that because there may be a lack of healthy options available in the workplace at night, night-workers tend to snack on unhealthy foods for convenience.
Another factor that leads to poorer food choices at night is emotional eating. It’s crucial to distinguish between true hunger and eating out of boredom, stress, or sadness. Excessive food intake and a desire for high-calorie foods have also been linked to tiredness. This could be due to hormonal changes that affect appetite when people are sleep deprived.
When it comes to gaining weight, what you eat is more important than when you eat. You won’t gain weight simply by eating late at night if you eat within your daily calorie needs. Consider nutrient-dense foods and beverages if you’re truly hungry after dinner. These are low-calorie foods that are high in nutrients.
The following are some excellent choices:
- Hummus-covered carrot and celery sticks
- Sliced apples with a dollop of your favorite nut butter
- Popcorn that has been air-popped
- a handful of grapes that have been frozen
Meal Frequency and Timing
Though the total number of calories you consume is what determines your weight, research suggests that meal timing and frequency can help you control your appetite. Multiple studies show that eating a higher-calorie breakfast keeps you fuller longer and may help you avoid overeating later in the day.
People who ate a 600-calorie breakfast had lower appetites and significantly fewer cravings throughout the day than those who ate a 300-calorie breakfast, according to one study. Cravings for sweets, in particular, were reduced.
Keep in mind that if you eat late at night — at least not at the traditional time — breakfast may not be necessary. If you listen to your hunger signals, you might find yourself eating your first meal a little later than usual. You might also want to consider eating more frequently and in smaller portions. Some studies, but not all, suggest that this can help you control your appetite and reduce hunger throughout the day.
Changing the timing and frequency of your meals may thus be a strategy for reducing overall calorie intake by managing hunger.
Calories do not count for more at night physiologically. If you eat within your daily calorie needs, you won’t gain weight by simply eating later.
Despite this, studies show that nighttime eaters make poorer food choices and consume more calories, potentially leading to weight gain. Choose nutrient-dense foods and low-calorie beverages if you’re hungry after dinner.