There is a great deal of misinformation around the topic of what time of day that you eat. Eating more than you need at any time of day is not good for you and will lead to weight gain. Fortunately, the truth is, your stomach doesn’t know what time of day it is and so the time of day you eat, is not the critical factor in weight management. The total amount of calories in and calories out is the critical factor and the nutrient quality of the food you eat is vital as well, but let’s talk about this eating at night thing.
The myth supporting ‘eating at night makes you fat’ is based around the assumption that any food left in your stomach when you fall asleep will instantly turn to fat because your body goes into hibernation state. That’s a very extreme assumption about the human metabolism and one based on a lack of understanding. It is true that your metabolic needs drop slightly while you sleep. But your body is an amazingly complex machine that does not operate via an ON / OFF switch. These types of theories assume an ‘all or nothing’ mentality when that’s just simply not the case.
Your digestive system is incredibly complex and is quite capable of digesting food throughout the night. The problem lies in the amount of food you consume at night as a portion of your daily intake. But this is to do with the energy balance (calories in, calories out), not the time of day. If you take in more than your body burns, you will store excess calories as fat (and that goes for carbohydrates, proteins and fats!).
Too much in, not enough out = fat storage. Simple.
Eating at night often has a social element to it and that’s where the danger lies. Think about it. You sit down to a lovely meal with your family, enjoy great conversation and talk about your day. You retire to the couch where you grab a nice glass or sav blanc or an icy cold beer (or 2…. or 5!). You then dish out that apple pie you saw at the bakery that looked delicious and you just had to buy. It looks a bit dry on its own so you pile on a few scoops of ice-cream or custard. On comes your favourite movie so you put your feet up. A couple more glasses of wine or a few more stubbies…. Around 10.30pm you’re still not ready for bed but you’re a bit peckish so out comes the cheese and biscuits, maybe the dip. Oh and you just remembered there’s a block of your favourite chocolate on the top shelf…
Let’s have a look at all that food consumed after 6pm….
Here’s a ball park:
Dinner – 500 calories
Alcohol – 300 calories
Dessert – 500 calories
More alcohol – 300 calories
Cheese and biscuits and dip – 600 calories
Chocolate – 500 calories
Total calories consumed after 6pm – 2700!!!
Given that you’ve most likely eaten close to 2000-2500 calories earlier in the day, that’s a whopping 4500-5000 calories for the entire day.
The average caloric needs for a 70kg woman is in the ballpark of about 2000 per day and around 2600 for men. If the description above sounds like a typical Friday or Saturday night for you, you’ve just consumed over twice the calories your body needs.
It won’t matter what time of day you consume that amount of extra calories, that excess is going to your butt!
Lesson for today – Let’s focus less on the time of day and focus more on the amount of food that you shovel into your mouth…. PERIOD. And don’t forget, nutrient rich, real food first. Treats afterwards (in moderation).