I hear everyone talking about when you should and shouldn’t eat, like not eating after 8pm, or that calories count less in the morning. I get so worried that I’m sabotaging my health by having a snack before I go to bed, or that I’m eating meals at the wrong times. Can you help? When should and shouldn’t I eat, and why?
Trying to Do the Right Thing
Hopefully I can help ease your mind! I used to let myself get sooo overwhelmed by the “rules” of dieting. I was afraid of drinking my calories. Of eating “too much fruit.” And yes, of eating after a certain time of day.
I always heard that the metabolism slowed way down while we slept, so anything I ate after 7pm would just turn into “wasted calories” that would make me gain weight. Looking back, I see how that doesn’t really even make sense! I’ll tell you why 😉
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WHEN you eat doesn’t matter as much as WHAT you eat.
It’s wayyyy better to spend your energy focusing on what you’re putting in your body. Overall, weight change comes down to calorie balance. And I’m talking calorie balance over time – not overnight.
The USDA and most experts will tell you that a calorie is a calorie any time of day. They don’t count more or less at certain times.
Even though you go to sleep at night, your body is still working. Which means your metabolism is still running and you are still burning calories! Yes, if you want to get technical there are some theories about blood sugar and how eating before you go to bed could increase fat storage etc., but here’s the thing – what you eat ALL DAY is still going to have more of an impact.
You’re more likely to eat unhealthy foods at night.
THIS. This is the real reason why late-night snacking might cause weight gain. When you grab a snack late at night, are you grabbing some celery or tossing a salad? Prob not. You’re more likely to dig into a bag of chips or a glorious bowl of ice cream.
Why? Because if you’re feeling snacky at night, it’s probably because you’re bored, stressed, tired, or distracted. All of these things cause cravings – and usually not for healthy stuff. Add in the likelihood that you’re eating mindlessly while watching TV, scrolling on your phone, or working (that’s me), and you’re eating a much bigger portion than you intended.
As long as you meet your energy needs, it doesn’t really matter when you eat.
Like I mentioned before, calories don’t “count more” at night, or “less” in the morning. I know it makes sense to think whatever you eat in the morning will be burned off all day while anything you eat won’t because you’re sleeping, but that’s just not exactly how it works.
It’s kinda like how you won’t gain weight the second you eat a heavy meal and you won’t put on weight on rest day. If you’re CONSISTENTLY eating more calories than you burn, you will gain weight. If you’re CONSISTENTLY burning more than you eat, you will lose weight.
In other words, your late night snack will only make you gain weight if it consistently sends you over your calorie needs.
If you’re hungry at night, you probably aren’t eating enough during the day
Oooh this is a good one. Wanna know a good sign that you’re UNDEReating? Being hungry at night!!
It’s super common for people to nail their diet all day long and then binge at night. And THAT is not a habit that you want to have. If this sounds familiar, the solution is simple – try eating more throughout the day! And don’t be afraid to do this. Being hungry at night is probably your body telling you that you need more. And you should listen!
What eating at night CAN do to your body.
Although calories at night don’t go “straight to your thighs,” eating at night can sabotage your goals in other ways. First, it can cause indigestion because you’re eating and then laying down soon after. Sometimes eating too close to bedtime can make it hard to fall asleep and stay asleep too. And guess what happens when you’re not getting enough sleep? You have more cravings, you’re sluggish during your workouts, and it’s easier to become stressed.
So if you notice a connection between eating late a night and poor sleep, it might help to leave a bigger window between eating and sleeping.
Hopefully, this clears things up for you! As always, I talked with my registered dietitian before writing this post and I always get my info from reputable sources. And of course it’s important to remember that everyone’s bodies work differently and it’s always best to talk to your doctor or dietitian about your needs!
PS – If you have a burning question you want to ask me, leave your questions below! I may answer it in an upcoming Dear Cassey post!