It’s common to hear the phrase “don’t eat after 8 p.m.” when you’re trying to lose weight. But when you think about it in terms of calories, the math doesn’t work out. As long as you stick to your goal and eat fewer calories than you burn, you should lose weight.
Here’s what you should know about eating late at night:
Eating most of your calories during the day rather than at night is helpful because we tend to overeat in the evening. Sadly, your eating choices are not logical, calculated moves solely aimed at getting you to your goal weight. Every decision is guided by emotions and bodily states. Despite good intentions, a crazy commute, hectic schedule, sleep deprivation or other stressor can make it hard to follow through with a healthy diet.
Picture this scenario: During the day you were disciplined with what you ate, but you came home stressed and voracious. Before fixing a meal, you wolf down a handful of chips, cookies, nuts or whatever’s convenient. Tired and sleep-starved, you polish off dinner in front of the TV or computer screen.
Sound familiar? Your evening meal evaporates in a blur because:
- Willpower, a limited psychological resource, gets exhausted throughout the day, which can make it difficult to resist an extra dessert at dinnertime.
- Negative emotions can drive emotional eating. It’s not uncommon to use food as a mood regulator, specifically to relieve feelings of stress, anxiety or loneliness. Even if that’s not the case, you may decide to use food as a reward for a hard day’s work.
- Sleep-deprived from your busy work schedule, you find yourself craving sugary, high-fat foods.
This example paints a dramatic exaggeration of reality, but it makes a point. If you’re eating excess calories in the evening, it adds up over time and prevents you from reaching your goals.
Nighttime may not be the best time to load up on calories, but if you have no other choice, you can still make it work.
1. Keep evening portions small. Instead, plan bigger meals for breakfast and lunch. Eating more calories during the day helps you stay satiated so you aren’t ravenous when dinner rolls around. This also helps if you suffer from heartburn and indigestion; large dinners are not your friend, especially if sleep comes soon after.
2. Avoid trigger foods in the evening. These are the foods that hook you after one bite, and they’re different for everyone. Common trigger foods include potato chips, cookies, ice cream, popcorn or nuts. It doesn’t mean you have to eliminate them from your diet completely, but it’s best to avoid consuming them at night when you are more likely to overeat.
3. Don’t eat in front of screens. This includes TV, computers, phones and video games. Entertainment puts your brain on autopilot so you don’t pay attention to your body’s cues that you are full and satisfied. As a result, you are more likely to consume excess calories.
4. Make sure to prioritize a good night’s rest. When in doubt, go to bed and get some shut-eye. Time and again, research shows sleep deprivation is linked to weight gain because it increases appetite. Not only will sleep help you manage your weight — your heart, brain and immune system will thank you, too.
In a perfect world, you can eat your calories whenever you like with zero consequences. In practice, it’s complicated. With today’s fast-paced world, it can be hard to strike a balance between your career, social obligations and health goals. So, if you find yourself eating late at night, practice the tips mentioned above.