I want to shake a “shame” bell at anyone thinking these crazy thoughts! I hear something along those lines all the time…
“No eating past 10 or you’ll get fat.”
“No carbs after dark or you’ll gain weight.”
“No food after 8 or you’ll pack on the pounds.”
“No fat after 7 or you will store it as body fat.”
No matter what the time or the food, everyone seems to have their own take on when to “start” and “stop” eating. The truth is, your body doesn’t operate on a 24 hr clock system! So, putting a “stop” time on your eating isn’t helping anything-- especially not your mental sanity!
The myths about eating at night are just that- myths. Common misconceptions. Yes, if you search, you will be able to find ‘research’ and ‘evidence’ “proving” their validity, but isn’t that the case for everything on the internet? When it comes down to it, we need to stop overthinking such basic life necessities such as eating and when to start/stop doing it, and start just using common sense!
Let’s take a look at some of the thoughts/studies out there, and mix in a little common sense lesson while we’re at it...
- Studies say that eating at night leads to weight gain, but the truth is, eating outside of your caloric range at night leads to weight gain.
- Studies say that eating high-fat at night leads to weight gain, but the truth is, eating too much high-fat at night leads to weight gain.
- Studies say that eating carbs at night leads to weight gain, but the truth is, eating a surplus of carbs at night leads to weight gain.
The fact of the matter is, it is not the kinds of foods or the times of the food that are the issue, it is the amount of food!
If you are consuming a surplus of calories in a day, your body will store excess calories as fat regardless of the time that you consumed them. It comes down to basic “calories-in/calories-out”.
The reason late-night-eating gets people into trouble is because late-night-eating is actually late-night-over-eating for them.
There can be a number of reasons for this. The first can be under-eating during the day.
If you’re feeling ravenous by night, it is likely because you didn’t eat enough throughout the day to satisfy you. This is a problem many on low-calorie diets face, and this is what leads to late night binging for them.
Unrealistic “diets” with too-little food and too-many restrictions have major pitfalls and are not sustainable-- hence why so many people fail at them long-term.
Eating is a pretty essential part of life, wouldn’t you agree? So, why are people putting make-believe rules on themselves as to when they can and can’t eat?? This approach to eating is too restrictive and leads to people hating their “diets” and throwing in the towel (often at night!).
Another reason for nighttime snacking fails: mindless eating.
Many people (myself sometimes included) eat out of boredom or other feelings, and as a result, they wind up consuming more calories than they need for the day. Nighttime can be prime "mindless eating" time for a large amount of people!
Regardless of the situation, the nighttime eaters facing an issue with nighttime eating are the ones busting past their daily calorie goals through their “past sunsunset” eats.
So, should you cut your eating off by a certain point in the night?
No, your body does not process food any differently just because it is dark outside.
Should you be worrying about whether or not you’re allowed to eat a big pasta dinner or burger at 7 pm?
No, IF you know your body well enough to know that eating a big, late night meal won’t open the floodgates to binging and mindless eating hours later (and if you have the calorie allowance for it), then go right ahead and eat!
However, if you know that eating a bigger meal at night is going to send you down a rabbit hole of snacking all night long, then avoid calorie-dense foods/snacks during the evening. Opt for lower-calorie, lighter snacks and meals instead.
Basically what I'm saying here is: whether or not you should eat at night/what you should eat at night doesn’t come down to whether or not you’re okay with gaining weight, it comes down to whether or not it is a good fit for your lifestyle/behaviors.
If you’re a night owl and you know you get hungry later at night, then eat lighter (yet filling) foods (fibrous carbs and lots of filling protein) throughout the day to account for bigger, more hearty meals at night.
If you’re up early and asleep early, then eat your heavier meals during the day and keep it light-calorie in the evening.
Work a job where you have a lot of business dinners? Eat at night with no restrictions by keeping your day-time-meals voluminous with veggies/salads and protein, then go for more of the dense carbs at night.
Have a lot of morning meetings with breakfast provided? If you don’t want to hold back from grabbing a bagel, then don’t! Dense carbs early, voluminous carbs later.
Want big meals at multiple points in the day? Then spread a mix of both the voluminous foods and dense foods out all day long!
It doesn’t matter how you stay within your daily caloric range, or when you stay in your daily caloric range, all that matters is that you do stay within your daily caloric range.
Like I said, if you are consuming too many calories, your body will store the excess as body fat. It doesn’t matter if you consumed them at 4:00 pm or if you consumed them at 11:00 pm.
So, whichever way you choose to approach eating at night, just make sure it is a comfortable fit for you.
...whichever way you choose to approach eating at night, just remember that you can eat at night! --no need to overthink it ;)