Am I Going to Get Fat if I Eat at Night?

Will you gain weight if you eat in the evening? It’s all about BALANCE. When you eat more calories than your body uses, you will gain weight (it’s called &…

Copyright (c) 2008 At Peace With Food

How many times have you asked this question? How many times have I been asked this question? Too many times to count. So let’s straighten this out for you once and for all. You will NOT gain weight if you eat after 8 pm unless you have eaten more calories than you body has used (or unless you have a thyroid and/or other metabolic condition that can only be diagnosed by a health care provider).

Let me explain the concept of energy balance-energy, in this case, meaning calories. Weight is a balance of intake and expenditure. Intake means the number of calories you consume; expenditure refers to the calories your body uses throughout the day. When calories in are greater than calories out, weight gain occurs. When intake is less than expenditure, you lose weight. If the calories you consume are close to the calories you use, your weight should, over time, stay the same.

Of course there are a number of factors that can affect this somewhat simple view of weight control, but for the average person, the math is simple. Calories in versus calories out.

But let’s look at what ELSE happens when you eat after 8pm (or 7pm, or 6 pm-depending on which diet book you have recently read). If you are eating later in the evening, chances are you won’t be hungry when you get up the next morning. What happens then? You probably skip breakfast. Several things go on, physically and mentally, when you skip breakfast. Physically-you metabolism, the rate at which your body burns calories, slows down. As I have said before, when you skip a meal, you body doesn’t know if this “fast” is voluntary or involuntary. Your body will work to hold on to each and every calorie it gets. This happens by slowing down the rate at which your body burns the calories you’ve eaten. So in effect, your attempt to skip the meal to “make up” for the extra calories you may have eaten last night only serves to sabotage you. Psychologically-you set yourself up to overeat later. If you skip breakfast-you will eventually get hungry. Chances are that you will, on a subconscious level, say “well, I didn’t eat breakfast, so it’s all right to eat this candy bar.” In the end, you wind up consuming more calories than if you would have simply had a small breakfast of, say, a piece of toast and peanut butter, or a small bowl of cereal.

There are a few risks associated with eating later at night, especially if you go to bed shortly after eating. One of those risks is developing reflux, more commonly known as heartburn. See, digestion works better WITH gravity, and if you eat a big meal and then lay down, you’re still digesting food, but now your body is level, making if more difficult for food to move down the digestive tract. Oh, it will get where it needs to go, but in the mean time, it may wear down some of the tissue of your upper digestive tract and cause you to develop heartburn.

When I was growing up, we always had dinner at 6pm (don’t ask my family about regular eating time, OK?). Immediately after dinner, my father then went into the living to fall asleep while listening to the evening news. Years later, he developed a strong case of reflux, and it wasn’t because he ate late and went to bed early; it was because he would lie down right after a meal. The recommendation is to wait at LEAST two hours after a meal before lying down to reduce your risk of developing reflux.

So, you wonder, will you put on pounds from eating in the evening? While I can’t make you any promises, (and barring any unusual medical conditions) I can tell you that as long as you eat the same or fewer calories than your body uses, you won’t gain weight. Just remember, if you do eat later in the day, don’t lie down for a few hours,

Hey, maybe this would be a good time for a short walk?