The Truth About Late-Night Eating

Saying that snacking at one time of day over another packs on pounds is like saying one player made the whole team lose. While it’s easy to blame the last error, you have to look at everything that happened leading up to the end. By the laws of thermodynamics, weight maintenance comes from calories in vs. calories out. If you expend the same amount of energy (calories) you take in each day, your weight will remain the same. If you expend more, you’ll lose weight. Less, and you’ll gain weight.

That said, we need to look at the big picture. Let’s say you ate normally all day, but at night, you ate a larger meal than usual. In that case, you might gain weight because you’re eating more than you normally would. Or you might gain weight if you didn’t consume too much all day and then ate most of your calories at night before bed. In fact, studies have shown that eating one large meal at night may result in adaptive hyperlipogenesis, which is when the body produces excessive or abnormal fat production. This is not to say eating a normal portioned dinner at 9:30 p.m. would make you gain weight (think about the Europeans).

Another time you might add pounds after late night eating is on the weekends. It’s important to compare your weekday vs. weekend eating patterns. Do you find yourself waking up later on the weekends and therefore eating a larger lunch to make up for lost calories at breakfast? Are you
drinking alcohol on the weekends and getting the ‘munchies’ late at night?

If you’re practicing these behaviors then yes, you will gain weight because you are consuming more calories than usual.

If you’re overeating at night by either eating one very large dinner or grazing after dinner until you go to bed, it’s likely that you’ll gain weight. However, if you eat a normal portioned meal after 8 p.m., you’re not destined to pack on the pounds. To avoid late night snacking, I recommend
sticking to a schedule. Make sure you eat breakfast, lunch, a snack, and dinner daily. Try not to leave more than four hours between meals, and focus on foods that are high in both protein and fiber, such as lean chicken, egg whites, whole grains, fruits and vegetables. These types of foods will satisfy you the most and help keep your hand out of the cookie jar — or pizza box!

Tanya Zuckerbrot MS, RD, is a nationally known registered dietitian based in New York and the creator of a proprietary high-fiber nutrition program for weight loss, wellness and for treating various medical conditions. Tanya authored the bestselling weight loss book The F-Factor Diet, and she is the first dietitian with a national line of high-fiber foods, which are sold under the F-Factor name. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook, follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn, and visit her website