By Christina | September 7, 2009
For those of us with busy schedules, we took comfort in recent years believing that it really didn’t matter when we ate as long as our daily caloric intake was within the recommended guidelines. Especially for most people who don’t get home from work or from their child’s extracurricular activities until later in the day, the idea that eating dinner late at night would not be detrimental to our waistlines was good to know.
Unfortunately, a recent study that was done on mice turns this idea on its head. It is now believed that it is not only what we eat, but when we eat that makes a difference in our weight. Mice that were fed the same food, but at different times from each other, had vastly different results in weight gain. The mice that were fed the food when they should have been sleeping vs. the mice that were fed earlier in the day gained 48% of their starting weight over a 6 week period of time.
Intellectually, these results don’t shock me. For instance, freshmen in college gain most of the “freshmen 15” by eating pizza and drinking copious amounts of beer in the middle of the night when they should be sleeping. Think of yourself. As the evening gets later and later, does broccoli sound more appealing to eat than popcorn and milk duds while you are watching reruns of Seinfeld at midnight?
The truth is that people are more likely to binge eat late at night because they have not properly fueled their bodies during the day with nutritious food. Being famished is not a good game plan when it comes to eating dinner late at night. It is a recipe for caloric disaster. In addition, because of the stress that many people feel from jobs and kids at the end of the day, there is an emotional justification to use food as a reward late at night when everyone else has gone to bed. I can guarantee you that food you are more likely to eat late at night is a hot fudge sundae rather than carrot sticks.
This study does not mean that you should go to bed starving if you haven’t had a chance to eat dinner until late. What it does mean is that if you are going to eat late, eat smart. Have your biggest meal of the day earlier like at lunch and a lighter meal for dinner. Soups, salads, and eggs make great late night choices. An additional reason to eat light at night is for proper digestion. It is never a good idea to eat a heavy meal and go right to bed.
You will sleep better, feel lighter, and maybe even weigh less if you consume more of your total calories during the day and less at night.