While many believe that eating late at night will cause you to pile on the pounds, experts have concluded that what you eat is much more important than when you eat
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We all go through phases of wanting to lose a few pounds and often stumble upon some questionable, and potentially false, diet tips.
The internet is inundated with claims promising incredible results by following specific food, nutrition and exercise routines. One popular theory suggests that eating after 8pm will make you gain weight.
But claims about dining late are misleading as the truth is that what you eat is much more important than when you eat.
Separating fact from the fiction, Healthline has revealed everything you need to know about late-night eating and weight gain.
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Does eating time really matter?
The idea that eating late causes weight gain stems from animal studies, which suggests that the body consumes calories differently past a certain time of day.
The theory claims eating late goes against your circadian rhythm – the 24-hour cycle that tells your body when to sleep, eat and wake.
According to your circadian rhythm, night time is for resting, not eating.
However, not all human studies support this concept, with research indicating that it is not necessarily the time you eat, but how much you eat that matters.
A study with more than 1600 children found no link between eating after 8pm and excess weight.
Another study tracked the eating habits of 52 adults and found that those who ate past 8pm consumed more total calories than earlier eaters; the extra calories could lead to weight gain over time.
Overall, weight gain does not appear to happen merely as a result of eating at night when the total calorie intake falls within your daily needs.
Late eaters tend to eat more
According to some, late diners tend to consume more calories than those eating at an earlier time.
Researchers have found individuals who had a meal closer to their bedtime consumed more calories overall than those who ate earlier.
Another study found that those who ate between 11pm and 5am consumed roughly 500 more calories per day than those who ate during daytime hours, gaining 10 more pounds over time.
Regardless of timing, eating at night may lead to weight gain only if surplus calories are consumed.
Late eaters make worse food choices
Those who eat later may be more likely to make unhealthier choices and opt for foods with little nutritional value.
There may be possible reasons for this, such as a limited access to healthy food at night.
Many studies have shown that people who work night shifts tend to snack on unhealthy foods for convenience, as there may be a lack of healthy food options available late.
Emotional eating is another factor leading to poorer food choices at night, with many consuming meals later due to stress, anxiety, boredom or sadness.
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Tiredness has been linked to increased food intake and a desire for high-calorie food, due to hormonal changes that influence appetite during sleep deprivation.
When it comes to weight gain, what you eat matters much more than when you eat, as long as you consume within your daily calorie needs.
Healthline recommends choosing nutrient-dense foods if you’re truly hungry after dinner, some great options include:
Carrot and celery sticks with hummus
Apple slices with a small portion of your favourite nut butter
Plain air-popped popcorn
A handful of frozen grapes
Meal timing and frequency
According to some studies, there may be ways to regulate your appetite through meal timing and frequency.
For example, they have shown a link between eating a higher-calorie breakfast to possibly prevent cravings and overeating at night.
Eating smaller meals more frequently may help you manage your appetite and lessen feelings of hunger throughout the day.
You won’t gain weight by merely eating later if you consume within your daily calorie needs, but changing your meal frequency may reduce your overall calorie intake.