How Late in the Evening Is “too Late” Eating?

Recent studies have shown that eating at night can lead to weight gain, so how late can you eat? And while we’re asking questions, do we know you ‘ll gain weight if you eat a late dinner?

Why is everyone talking about late dinner?

If you notice this question comes up a lot lately, it’s because of a study that looked at what happens in the bodies of volunteers when they are forced to eat the same three meals at the beginning of the day (breakfast, lunch and dinner). ) or later. per day (lunch, dinner and one more dinner). The researchers say they found that those who ate late were hungrier, burned fewer calories, and that genes associated with weight gain were expressed in their fat cells.

It is important to note that this study did not test whether people actually gained or lost weight . You read that right: despite all the headlines that late eating is “bad for you”, “bad for weight loss”, “increases the risk of obesity” or “this is what you should avoid”, the study actually The case did not track the participants. ‘ weight. In fact, the authors write:

Note that the present study was designed to test for acute [i.e. e. short-term] effect of late eating on energy balance regulation, not whether long-term adherence to such a schedule will lead to weight gain over time, or whether the body will adapt allostatically.

In other words, it’s entirely possible that your body will adjust to the new diet if you’ve actually lived your life that way. (Study participants only ate on a set schedule for six consecutive days.)

What does other research say about late meals?

There are other studies showing that eating late can help you gain weight, but it’s not as simple as changing your meal times to change your body size.

For example, studies in mice show that when mice are forced to eat during the day (when they normally sleep), they gain weight faster than mice fed at night. However, this study is not entirely applicable to humans for several reasons. First, mice are usually young and growing, which may not reflect what happens in adulthood; on the other hand, they are mice, not people . (Small detail, I know, but worth noting.)

Healthline has a good overview of human research to date. A lot of this doesn’t fit with the idea that late meals make you gain weight: for example, there are plenty of studies that show that time doesn’t matter much when calories are equal. Which makes a lot of sense when you think about it.

What you eat is more important than when you eat it.

The idea that late meals can affect weight gain has been around for a long time and has turned into several myths that have nothing to do with science. For example, it’s a myth that your body doesn’t “burn” the calories you eat late at night. Your body burns calories all the time, including during sleep. In fact, most of the calories are burned during rest.

The science of late eating has found that people who eat late tend to eat more calories than those who eat early, and that they are more likely to eat processed high-calorie foods. The new study mentioned above found that subjects were more hungry if they were in a group that ate late, which it tracks.

But again, there are probably other things going on here. If you eat late, it’s probably because you’re studying late or working the night shift. In such cases, you may not have the time, energy, or resources to prepare healthy meals for yourself. You will have chips and soda, or you will order a pizzeria that is open until late. It’s also possible that working at night is one of the factors disrupting your circadian rhythm; late meals may be a consequence , not a cause . Sleep deprivation has been linked to weight gain.

If we look again at a recent study, people who ate late had about a 5% reduction in the number of calories their bodies burned, although this was on average and not for everyone – some people burned slightly more calories in the later hours. . diet. Five percent is about 115 calories if you consume 2300 calories per day (average for American adults). This is equivalent to one banana or one ounce slice of cheese. Even if this effect persists after the six-day study, you can combat it by eating one ounce less cheese per day.

For the same reasons, Winchester Hospital recommends eating early if possible, but they also say, “If you miss a healthy dinner at 6:00 [pm], there’s no reason not to eat it at 9:00!”

Late eating can affect sleep

Personally, I try not to eat too late, but not for weight gain reasons. It’s just that I expect my sleep to not be as good when I eat shortly before bed. (I also find that I generally eat better when I eat early in the day. This is because I probably planned my meals instead of waiting until bedtime, realizing how tired I was, and then I eat whatever I can find in the kitchen what I can cook quickly.)

This is standard advice you’ll get from wearable sleep device companies like Whoop . But science doesn’t always agree. The study we mentioned above found that participants in both groups slept equally well, and other studies like this one have shown that late dinner may actually be better for sleep (in this latest study, people who ate late dinner, had deeper sleep earlier in the day). night).

If you’re concerned that late meals are affecting your sleep, try eating earlier and see if you sleep better afterward (for example, making notes about how rested you feel the next morning). Then adjust accordingly.

So, how late is late?

Okay, but what if you want to try eating early in the day? In the end, it might be worth a try, even if it’s unlikely to be a magic weight loss remedy.

In the study we discussed at the beginning of this article, a late meal was eaten two and a half hours before bed (that is, at 8:30 pm if you go to bed at 11). People who ate early ate dinner about four hours earlier, or, in this example, at 4:30 pm.

Meanwhile, there is a form of intermittent fasting that is better suited to equalize our body’s circadian rhythm. While there isn’t a ton of research behind it, it’s worth noting that its adherents typically eat between 8am and 6pm .

Recommendations for avoiding late meals usually fall within this timeframe. For example, Oura (another wearable sleep device) recommends your last big meal at least three hours before bed, or no later than 8:00 pm if you go to bed at 11. Meanwhile, if you want to avoid a bout of heartburn. it is usually advised to finish the last meal at least three hours before bedtime; some say four.

Taking all of these factors into account—and again using the example of going to bed at 11:00 pm—you might want to eat dinner no later than 7:00 pm to make sure you’re done by 8:00 am and that your stomach is empty or close to it. . by the time of sleep. However, if you need to eat later, just be extra careful with your choice and eat the same food that you would eat at your normal lunch time, even if it means you need to prepare yourself healthy meals earlier in the day so that you don’t seduced. order.

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