Q: Is it really true that eating after 8 p.m. makes you gain weight?
A:At the end of the day, the more calories you eat, the more weight you gain-regardless if it's during the day or at night. Even the healthiest foods, when eaten in greater amounts than needed for energy will be stored as fat. It is not possible to circumvent the laws of thermodynamics and energy balance. It all comes down to calories in vs. calories out.
The reason most people think that eating at night causes weight gain is because people tend to eat extra at night. They might not take into account what they have already eaten during the day and this leads to weight gain. But, if you have eaten well balanced meals during the day and saved some of your extra calories to eat at night, you will NOT gain weight. So if you eat the same exact meal at 5 p.m. or 9 p.m. it will not affect your body differently. As long as they have the same amount of calories, what really matters is the total amount of food and drink you had over the course of the day, week, or month and how much energy you expended during that time frame.
However, the reason most people do gain weight when eating at night is because they have a late dinner after not eating for a long period of time. This makes it hard to make good food choices and also to keep portions in control. You may end up picking up a slice of pizza or two whereas if you weren't as hungry you would have time to cook a healthy dinner without sabotaging your diet. The second concern that comes with late night eating is "mindless" snacking in front of the TV, while studying for finals, or hanging out with your buddies. People tend to pig out on ice cream, cookies, or pizza (not on celery and carrots) and this leads to weight gain because it is usually extra calories taken in.
So aim to spread your calories out throughout the day and if you do have to eat a late dinner, don't worry about it leading to weight gain as long as you have not overeaten during the day. Just remember, it all comes down to the total number of calories taken in-regardless of what the clock says.
Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto