If you've ever attempted to lose weight or try to keep from gaining it, chances are you've heard or have once been told NOT to eat at night or too late in the evenings. Many trainers and weight loss coaches even go so far as to put a time frame on it. For example: No more eating after 6 pm. And we all have that one friend that swears she gained 10 pounds as soon as she switched to the night shift. Many dieters try hard to respect these, so called, extremely important weight loss guidelines, but what is the real reason behind it? Do our bodies magically start storing fat at a certain time of day or when the sun goes down?
The original theory behind avoiding nighttime eating stems from the idea that most people become more sedentary in the evenings, especially near bedtime. The more sedentary you are, the fewer calories are burned. This theory does present a valid point; however there may be other things to consider that may influence nighttime weight gain as well.
Late night eaters typically have also skipped one or more meals during the day. Skipping meals during the day not only slows down the metabolism, but it also may lead to overindulging in the evening. And oftentimes, skipping meals can become an excuse to eat more at night. Eventually, if food is continually avoided during the day, the body will stop producing signs of hunger. This can be a sign of the metabolism slowing. Eating smaller meals throughout the day will speed up the metabolism and keep the body consistently burning calories. When this is done regularly, the body, even at rest, will burn calories, and that means even at night.
Another possible reason for nighttime weight gain is food choice. When it's been a long day at work, the last thing most people want to do is take the time to prepare a healthy snack. It's so much easier to whip open the pantry door and go right for the cookies, crackers, and chips. High calorie, processed foods are often the food of choice for late night eaters. It's just plain EASY. Sitting in front of the television and not paying attention to what is being eaten can be dangerous as well. Before you know it, you've eaten a whopping extra 500 calories in just potato chips, and you didn't even realize it. Fruit and veggie snacks can be a healthy alternative. If you love to snack, it is still possible, but you have to play it smart and pay attention to how much and how many calories you are consuming. Always have a plan. If you're tired from the day, and you don't have a plan, you'll end up getting dinner at a fast food drive thru or eating excessive amounts of high calorie foods because "there wasn't anything else in the house." It should always be a priority to have healthy foods and snacks available. Making healthy snacks as easy to grab as the cookies and chips are can save you a whole lot of calories, and your waistline will thank you. Some veggies can even give negative calories. This means, your body actually has to burn more calories to digest the food than the calories the veggie provided itself. This means, you CAN snack and actually lose weight, even at night.
Another important factor to consider about nighttime eating is that weight loss or weight gain comes down to how many calories are consumed, not when you consume them. Every meal that is consumed during the day should be healthy, not just at night. Even if you eat healthy and clean in the evening and stop eating by 6pm, but you're eating high calorie during the day, you're still at risk of gaining weight. In order to lose weight, a negative energy balance must be created within the body. This means that more calories must be burned than consumed on a consistent basis, until desired weight is achieved. If the goal is to simply maintain weight, then any calories consumed must also be burned. Otherwise, weight gain may occur.
In conclusion, late night eating may cause weight gain if high calorie foods are consumed in excess without being burned off or used by the body for energy. Focusing on WHAT and HOW MUCH is being consumed versus WHEN is the true key in preventing weight gain.