A quick google search of ‘eating later in the day’ and there are hundreds of hits with articles claiming that eating after a certain time ‘causes weight gain’, ‘is associated with higher BMI’ and encourages ‘storage of fat’.
You might also have heard the saying ‘breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper’.
But is there actually any scientific evidence that eating later in the evening contributes to weight gain? And should we avoid certain food groups after 6pm? We all know that WHAT we eat impacts our health and weight but does the time really matter...?
One of the problems with the research is that there are so many other factors that could be influencing people’s weight and lifestyle. For example, those that eat later, may go to sleep later and we know that not getting enough sleep influences our food choices the next day meaning that we find high energy (calorific) food more appealing.
Not having enough good quality sleep also makes us more likely to snack throughout the day on the quest for much needed energy. People that eat late in the day may be more likely to make poorer food choices and so may just be consuming more calories. If you find that you surrender to late night snacking on high calorie foods, then creating healthy habits of eating earlier in the day and having some healthy snacks on hand for if you do feel hungry will keep cravings at bay and help you reach your health and weight loss goals. If your goal is to lose weight, then it’s your total calorie intake that matters more than the time that you are eating!
The latest research suggests that it is the quantity and quality of the food that you eat in the evening that makes the difference. Going to sleep on a full tummy can cause bloating and digestive discomfort and affect our quality of sleep as a result. We’ve all had that feeling after a big meal when you just can’t get comfortable! So, avoiding having a big portion of food (whatever it is) an hour or two before you go to bed is a good idea. However, if you are feeling peckish having a small healthy snack is absolutely fine and won’t cause you to gain weight as long as your daily calorie intake isn’t higher than your daily calorie expenditure! It’s also important to remember that for people with certain health conditions such as Type 1 diabetes, eating something before bedtime is essential.
As for eating carbohydrates after 6pm, there is no substantial evidence that this has any effect on weight gain unless you are overindulging by eating large portions of carbohydrate foods or energy dense foods. As we know that having something to eat soon after exercising benefits muscle recovery and performance, if you are someone who exercises in the evening then having a healthy supper could even have a positive effect on your training.
The key thing to remember is that its what you eat and how much of it that matters. Focus on eating plenty of fruit and vegetables, lean protein, healthy unsaturated fats, wholegrains and complex carbohydrates and try to limit the amount of processed foods you eat, and you will achieve all your health and fitness goals!