Diet Myths, Debunked: Does Eating Late Cause Weight Gain?

by in Diets & Weight Loss, Healthy Tips, June 8, 2010

stocked refrigerator

How many times have you heard that you shouldn’t eat after 8 pm? Does the time you eat really play a role in weight gain? Yes and no — we’ll explain.

It’s All About Balance
It’s really what you eat and how much you eat throughout the day that makes a difference. If someone eats well-balanced meals throughout the day and starts snacking on loads of food at night (healthy or junkie), that will lead to weight gain. I remember late night study parties in college — ordering up pizzas and wings every night will definitely lead to the freshman 15.  But simply eating late at night won’t tip the scale.

Spreading Out Your Meals

It’s not about how late you eat, but the actual timing of meals. What’s a normal meal pattern?  Well, you should eat three meals and two to three healthy snacks a day. There should be no more than five hours between meals to keep blood sugar and energy levels under control. So a person who eats breakfast at 10 a.m., lunch a 3 p.m. and dinner at  8 p.m. won’t necessarily gain weight because they’re eating dinner at 8 p.m. However, if you wait too long between meals or skip meals — say breakfast was at 10 a.m. and the next meal was at 8 p.m. — studies show that this can lead to binging at the next meal.

The Role of Snacks
What you choose to eat at each snack is equally important. Each snack should contain between 150-200 calories. Here are a few healthy snack options:

  • Apple with peanut butter
  • Crackers and cheese
  • Cut up veggies dipped in low fat dressing
  • A handful of nuts

Many folks start devouring everything in sight after dark— that’s when it gets ugly. Even healthy snacks can turn into hundreds of late-night calories, especially in front of the TV. I see this trend a lot in my clients,  and it’s a tough behavior to control.  Different solutions work for different people — some curb snacking by not eating after a certain hour, while others control portion sizes by paying attention to portion sizes.  Turning off the TV and eating at the table may work for you. Check out our post on late-night snacks for more tips.

The Bottom Line: It’s not about the time of day you eat, but rather energizing your body with sensible meals and snacks throughout the day. Mindless late-night snacking is what gets many people into trouble. Controlled portions of healthier options is your best bet.

TELL US: Are you a late-night snacker?

Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. See Toby’s full bio »

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Comments (9)

  1. Its strange how myths can persist despite incessant enlightenment from notable professionals. Many people are actually terrified to eat after these hours for fear of weight gain. As this post shows, intervals, what you eat and how you eat rather plays a dominant role in determining how much weight you can put on.

    Out of your snack suggestions, I go for Turkey roll ups and Snack bar. My favorites.

  2. Julie says:

    I work the night shift, but the day-shift drones keep insisted that if I eat after 8 p.m., I'l gain weight. Who do you know who can go to sleep immediately after working? No one, which means I would have to spend several long hours without food, then sleep on that empty stomach. I'd be starved by my version of breakfast time.

  3. Martha says:

    I eat dinner late at night but I also eat breakfast and lunch with snacks, sometimes I dont eat till 8 or later, I have no problem with weight gain. I eat more healthy foods at nite. Once in a while I do like to eat the junk, but everything in moderation. I balance my day with as many fruits and veggies I can eat with each meal and snacks, then make carbs and protein my side dishes. I do love a big hearty salad!

  4. fajar says:

    thanks for share

  5. Dorothy says:

    I always have a glass of skim milk before I go to sleep, and alittle peanut butter and jelly on flat bread, seems to help me sleep…

  6. Thanks for sharing………………

  7. im_pinoy says:

    Yap , I'm a late-night snacker cause I still have a job during night time and food is my only way to stay awake. Eating late can really cause weight gain its really because during night you body has a slow digestions . If you eat a lot during night or you will eat late at night your body can't digest all the foods you've eaten so definitely you will gain weight.

  8. xamthone says:

    Diet Myths, Debunked: Does Eating Late Cause Weight Gain…. sip….

  9. Hi! Where did you download theme of your blog? It’s amazing ;)

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