Truth or Myth? Eating after 7 or 8 or 9 pm makes you gain weight. Answer: MYTH. (usually)
A calorie is a calorie is a calorie is a calorie no matter when you eat. The number of calories your body takes, combined with the number of calories your body burns, determines whether you lose, maintain or gain weight - aka body fat.
Yes, in theory, eating earlier helps you burn more because you’re active, however, if you eat 1500 calories, and you burned 1500 calories living and working out that day - you maintain no matter what time you ate, worked out and physically moved.
Frankly, when talking with my clients who have either gained weight or just can’t lose it, we find out that when they eat late at night, it’s not because of the actual time they are eating late – it’s that they are eating extra calories after dinner. In other words, they are eating more calories than they need.
Lots of people who eat after dinner do it for two main reasons: one is that they ate dinner really early, then about 3 or 4 hours later, when their bodies have nearly digested all their dinner food, they get a bit hungry again. The second reason is that they eat mindlessly: while watching TV or in front of a computer, they get a craving, are bored, or stressed, or it’s just easy not to control after dinner snacks.
Post dinner snacks are usually not a salad or celery sticks… they tell me they eat fast easy food like chips, cookies, candy, ice-cream, pudding whatever… and it’s easy to eat half-a-bag or more than a “snack-size” of anything. That results in taking in MORE CALORIES THAN YOU NEED AND YOU GAIN WEIGHT OR STAY OVERWEIGHT.
One study in the journal Obesity added to the confusion. Northwestern University researchers found that eating at night led to twice as much weight gain -- even when total calories consumed were the same. But this research was done on mice, not humans, and the reason for the weight gain is unknown. But that has not been found in humans.
Now, eating late at night can cause you discomfort- if you have bad digestive problems, GERD, acid reflux or just ate way too much… that can be uncomfortable. It can also add to existing sleeping problems. But if you don’t have them, you’re good.
I am not advocating eating late at night if it’s not your style and you go to bed early. You should eat every four hours or small snacks throughout the day – whatever fits your schedule and you see that works for you. The MAIN THING IS TO EAT ONLY THE AMOUNT OF CALORIES YOUR BODY NEEDS TO MAINTAIN OR LOSE.
I advocate eating later if, and only if, eating later fits your lifestyle and keeps you from eating more calories than you need. If for example, you get home after 6 or 7 or 8 pm, you have been eating healthy from the morning through the day, and your body still needs more calories – then kiss your partner, hug your kids, pet the cat, feed the cat, wash up, check your email, play with your dog and whatever you need and like to do to settle in and relax, then, you kick back and eat the rest of your daily calorie intake, otherwise known as dinner, and bit of a treat otherwise known as desert. As long as you are not giving your body more calories than it needs for the day, you’re good!
Notice I repeat “more calories than your body needs?” This is where you might groan and moan and roll your eyes thinking “I don’t want to count my calories!”. Well, that’s just not a big deal. It’s really not, and it’s not hard. It’s easy, yes, it’s way easier than you think. Especially now with so many apps like loseit.com, myfitnesspal and many others, you can just put in what you ate or something like it, and you have a pretty good idea of how many calories you will eat. Or just “google it!”. Once you do it for awhile, you get really good at knowing how many calories something you usually eat have.
It’s best to quickly determine your calories for that snack or meal you are about to eat before you put it in your mouth, and keep a mental or written tally as you go through the day. It takes literally 30 seconds to a minute tops! There is no need to write it in a journal if you don’t want your colleagues or nosy in-law to know. Just make like you have to send a quick text and put the calorie count in your phone, or just make a mental note. Honestly, you get so good at it it’s that quick. You and only you make it a big deal.
You don’t have to know exactly to the tee how many calories are in something but admit it, you do know that hoagie is more than 200 calories, it’s probably 600-650! I haven’t even looked it up while writing this. You know an apple is 80-120 calories, a banana is 80-150, half a cup of blueberries are about 40-50 and so on. You can read calories-per-serving on most packages, and you can guess pretty closely when you go out to lunch, so by the time you get to dinner, you know about how many calories you have left to eat, without overeating, and enjoy eating even when it’s late!