Hits and Myths: the time of day you eat has little bearing on weight gain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 27 September, 2013, 8:45pm

Q: Can eating after 8pm lead to long-term weight gain?

The straight answer: No

The facts: Health experts have long warned us to avoid snacking or consuming large meals after 8pm. The reason? It can cause long-term weight gain.

This is not entirely true. It is not so much what time we eat; weight gain has more to do with the types of foods we eat and how many calories we have burned during the day, says Sally Poon Shi-po, a registered dietitian from Personal Dietitian in Hong Kong.

Eating after 8pm can only lead to a long-term increase in weight if we consume high-calorie foods and do not get rid of these excess calories through exercise. Poon points out that our busy lifestyles make it easy for us to overeat. It is common for many of us to eat on the run during the day and then wolf down high-calorie dinners when we get home from work because we are so hungry.

Post-dinner, we take comfort in fattening snacks while relaxing in front of the television. Since we do not exert much energy at night, the calories we consume at dinnertime typically get stored as fat. Poon's suggestions to avoid overeating at night: make sure you have a satisfying breakfast.

A good breakfast will set you up well for the rest of the day as it keeps you from making the wrong choices at lunchtime.

"When people skip breakfast, they end up eating more calories throughout the rest of the day and compensating for this skipped meal with high-fat, high-sugar foods," Poon say.

A balanced lunch and a healthy afternoon snack will also keep those afternoon hunger pangs at bay.

If you are tempted to snack after dinnertime, ask yourself if your cravings are due to hunger or just greed. Many people snack at night out of boredom, or because they have watched junk food commercials on television. You can distract yourself from your craving by calling a friend, reading a book, or doing some light exercise or housework for about 20 minutes.

This is usually how long it takes for the craving to disappear. If you are still hungry after dinner, Poon suggests choosing healthy snacks over high-fat, sugary, processed ones.

The bottom line: it does not matter what time you eat, weight gain is an issue of calories in versus calories out. If you burn more calories than you consume, you will lose weight. If you consume more calories than you burn, you will gain weight.