Eating Late At Night - Will It Make You Gain Fat?

calories eating food nutrition Sep 15, 2020

The other day a client told me that she ate smaller meals during the day and saved a lot of calories so that she could have a larger meal at night. And this is how I normally tend to eat too. She was, however, wondering if this would impact her weight loss and if it would be better if she ate more during the day and less at night.

I am not surprised at this question as there is a lot of conflicting information and recommendations out there and I assume you've all heard the saying ‘don’t eat carbs after dark or you’ll gain weight’…

And the fact is that many people still think it's a bad idea to eat before bed because it leads to  to weight gain, as if you won't burn the calories off whilst sleeping.

Yes, most people tend to be less active in the evening and at night, unless they are a shift worker. It is however, important to consider your calorie requirement (metabolism) for an entire day or week, not on an hourly basis or shorter periods. So, even if you are not as active during your sleep as you are 'at rest', your basal metabolic rate won't change throughout the day and it averages the same at night and your body will still require energy whilst you are sleeping. 

In addition, there is no evidence to support the idea that calories count more before bedtime than they do at any other time of the day. A calorie is a calorie whether it is 9 am or 9 pm.

So, why do people who eat late at night tend to gain weight?

If we consider the pyramid of importance, we know that in order to gain weight we need to eat more calories than we burn. And although it actually seems that people who eat before bed are more likely to gain weight, it is not because they eat late at night it is because they haven’t accounted for the calories and have therefore been overeating.

So...if we make sure that we don’t overeat, we can eat all or some of our calories late at night without gaining weight.

Take intermittent fasting (IF) as an example. During this eating protocol, people eat all of their calories in an 8-hour window. Most, if not all people, have this eating window in the later part of the day.

If we believe that calories don’t matter, that our metabolism is slower at night and that eating later during the day will cause weight gain, we would also assume that people that follow IF will not be able to lose weight even when in a calorie deficit.

And we know that this is not the case! People who follow IF are able to lose weight despite eating all of their calories in the 8 hours leading up to bedtime.

Another interesting point to mention is that having carbs at night may also help you get a better night's sleep as they may boost tryptophan and serotonin. So don't be afraid to enjoy a large, carb rich meal at long as it fits your macros. 

In summary... 

As long as your account for your calories and macros, don't be afraid to eat a larger meal at night. Because, if you shouldn't eat at night, why is there a light in the fridge?

Diet Smart. Not Hard.