Does Eating Late at Night Cause Weight Gain?

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We’ve all heard the advice: if you’re watching your weight, don’t eat after 8! 8 p.m., that is. For years, experts have warned that eating late at night was bad for your waistline. Which makes sense, when you really think about it. Conventional weight loss wisdom says that in order to lose weight, you need to burn more calories than you eat. If you’re eating later at night, it’s unlikely you’ll be burning those calories. But as we learn more about how the body works when it comes to weight loss and gain, we’re finding out that conventional wisdom might not be so wise anymore. Does eating late at night cause weight gain? It’s more than a simple yes or no answer.

Researchers used to believe that eating at night went against your circadian rhythm.

Your circadian rhythm is a 24-hour cycle that regulates when you sleep, wake, and eat. It was believed that your metabolism slowed down during sleep time in the cycle. Which meant that eating during “sleep times” could result in weight gain. One study conducted on mice showed that when the mice ate during sleep cycles, they gained significantly more weight than mice that ate during wake cycles.

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However, not all human studies had the same results. A study of over 1600 children showed no correlation between eating a late dinner and excessive weight gain. In fact, the kids in this study did not eat more calories when they ate dinner after 8 p.m.

So does eating late at night cause weight gain? Turns out, it’s not when you eat, but what (and how much) you eat.

The time of day doesn’t matter as much as the quality and quantity of food you’re eating. If you eat more calories than you burn, regardless of when you consume them, you’ll likely gain weight. But, if your eating patterns still adhere to your daily calorie needs, the time of day doesn’t matter.

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However, the issue may be that people who eat late at night tend to consume more calories and make poor food choices. A study on the eating habits of 52 adults found that the people who ate after 8 p.m. had a tendency to eat more calories. Over time, that could certainly lead to weight gain.

Does eating late at night cause weight gain? Not necessarily. If your schedule means late dinners on occasion, don’t worry about it too much. Just make good food choices, and resist the urge to overeat.

(Image: iStock/AndreyPopov)