Is Nighttime Eating Bad?

“Will nighttime eating make me gain weight?”

The brief answer is no.

Calories eaten at night will not necessarily make you gain weight, unless they exceed the amount of calories you need for the day.  But whether you eat 500 calories at 6pm or 9pm it’s the same.

However, there is a reason a lot of diets propose no eating after a certain time, whether that’s 7 or 8pm.  The reason for this is that it helps you close down the kitchen and stop endless snacking at night.  However, dinner by 7pm is not realistic for everyone, specifically my busy Manhattan clients who are often working much later than 7 or 8pm!

If you don’t get home till 9pm, does that mean you should skip dinner?

NO!

Here’s why it’s helpful not to eat late at night:

  • You are usually not as hungry at 6pm vs 8/9pm for dinner, so it’s easier to keep portions in control.
  • If you close the kitchen, you’re not allowing for mindless late night snacking which can add up to hundreds of calories.
  • You’re not eating right before bed which can keep you up at night.
  • You will be less likely to give in to cravings.
  • You will keep your metabolism going, by not waiting long periods of time between lunch & dinner.

If it’s not possible for you to eat an early dinner, then consider these tips:

  • Have one or two afternoon snacks.
  • If you eat lunch at 12pm and dinner is not until 9pm.  Then have a small snack around 3pm and again at 6pm.  This will prevent you from being ravenous later on and making a poor decision.
  • Consider a small dinner – make portions smaller, especially if you are snacking more in the afternoon.
  • It’s smart to fuel yourself really well during the day when you need the energy and have a small light dinner.
  • Some good options: egg white veggie omelet with whole grain bread, lentil soup and salad, baked sweet potato topped with vegetarian chili, salad with grilled chicken, grilled fish with roasted vegetables.

What time do you eat dinner?

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6 Responses

  1. Great post. I think there are a lot of misconceptions about this. For people who get off work after 2-3 am depending where they live it is not practical to even think that not eating after 8 pm makes sense. The whole day really gets shifted at that point and my dinner at 6:30 pm becomes someone elses dinner at 10:30 pm or later. I seriously have had people who work grave yard or swing shifts tell me they can’t eat after 9 pm. Working in Vegas I spent a lot of time adjusting meal times to fit peoples different schedules.

  2. I’ve read a lot on this topic – and I understand the community says it doesn’t matter what time you eat, but I still can’t help but think that if I ate the same thing at 630 that I did at 930, there’s just no way my body would use up the “energy” I fueled it with and thus the extra would turn to fat. Can you help me understand why this isn’t the case?

    I personally hate eating late at night b/c I can’t go to sleep if my tummy is full. I try to eat something that resembles dinner or a generous snack at 6/7 pm and then have something small like a banana or yogurt at 9.

    • Thanks for the question. I know it is very confusing. Your body burns a certain number of calories each day at rest (your RMR), therefore even when you are sleeping your body is using energy! There are many things your body does with the calories that you don’t even realize. If you have burned more calories than you have eaten for the day and you fill in the rest of the deficit later on at night your body will still use those calories! Just because it’s later at night, your body’s caloric needs do not change.

  3. Now that I’m not a large-firm litigator, I eat at 6 most every night with my family . . . but in the old days, I was one of those 9 p.m. diners, if I ate at home. As an avid calorie-counter and weight watcher (by myself, not w/the organization!), I can say that for me, it doesn’t matter when the calories are consumed in terms of weight gain/loss. What matters are the total calories consumed and the energy expenditure in a given day.

  4. Being a college student, I sometimes get stuck in the library after class and before I know it, I missed dinner time. For me, eating at 9:30 means I’m going to make a poor choice. I’m hungry and desperate if I put off dinner for that long. But probably because I had not considered your option of having two snacks in between. If I pack a dinner ahead, like a salad, and try to eat it at 9, my appetite has shifted and now I want something carb-heavy so that salad isn’t going to do it for me the way it would have at 6.

  5. Thanks for clearing this up for me! I always wondered if I should be more concerned with when I eat my meals. I normally eat around 6:30 at home and an hour or so later if out with friends.

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