Scientists Explain When You Can Eat at Night and When You’d Better Avoid It

All of us have probably heard the phrase, “Don’t eat after 6 PM.” This rule has different explanations and one of the main ones says that all foods you eat after 6 PM turn into fat during the night or don’t digest at all. But most people finish their workday at 6 PM and come home even later. Does this mean that they should refuse their dinner for the sake of maintaining a good shape and a healthy stomach? And what should night owls or those who have an unconventional work schedule do?

We at Bright Side have decided to figure out whether late dinners are really that harmful and if they cause people to gain extra weight. At the end of the article, there is a useful bonus that explains how to get your metabolism to work better.

The connection between late evening snacks and extra weight

No one knows for sure where the opinion that food consumed after 6 PM turns into fat comes from. But even after much research has been done on this topic, the results still appear to be controversial.

For example, in one of the experiments, a group of healthy men stopped consuming food from 7 PM to 6 AM. Each of the examinees lost about 1 pound within 2 weeks. After, the participants got back to their usual late dinners and gained back the lost weight again.

In another experiment, 1 group of examinees consumed the most calories at dinner, the other, at lunch. It was the first group that showed better results.

So why do we gain weight?

One thing is clear — food eaten in the evening doesn’t turn into fat. A person gets fat when they eat a lot but move very little. They consume more energy than they spend. This means it’s the number of consumed calories that affects the extra weight and not the time that dinner is eaten. People who are used to eating in the evening consume more food within the day than those who go to bed early and limit their food intake before going to sleep.

The scientists from Northwestern University, USA were watching 2 groups of people. The participants of the first group went to bed at midnight and got up at 8 AM, while the second group consisted of night owls. The latter were consuming more calories per day, the main part of which came from evening dinners and snacks. It’s important to note that the examinees from the night group ate more fast food but fewer vegetables and fruit.

During another experiment, the examinees were keeping a special diet during the day but were allowed to eat chocolate from vending machines in the evening. Those who used this “chocolate” option gained weight and the chocolate bars they bought made up approximately 15% of their daily norm.

That’s probably the reason why the rule about eating after 6 PM appeared. It’s the evening time when eating consciously becomes an uphill task. People come from work tired and hungry so they cook and eat quickly. Also, one of the most popular after-work activities is watching a TV series, which is often followed by eating potato chips or other snacks. Also, if you suddenly find out in the evening that you ran out of all the products at home, it’s likely that you’ll order a pizza instead of going to the supermarket for vegetables. Even the joke about checking your fridge every 10 minutes to find out if anything tasty has appeared there is very indicative of this because very often we have nothing to do and this boredom makes us want to chew something.

Scientists confirm that night owls sleep approximately 1 hour less than early birds and they have more opportunities to overeat. This means they have more time for food, an increased sensitivity to food rewards, changing appetite hormones, and a necessity to sustain energy due to a lack of sleep.

Does food get digested at night?

Of course, it does! Our digestive tract doesn’t stop working during sleep — whether it’s night sleep or daytime sleep. Many health professionals say that a person’s metabolism naturally slows down at night. However, research has shown that these changes in the speed of metabolism at night are insignificant.

Food and sleep quality

Food that we eat affects the quality of our sleep. Research has shown that saturated fats (of animal origin) prevent a person from falling asleep and make them more restless. Other factors like alcohol, caffeine, and sugar also affect the quality of sleep negatively.

That’s when people who like to have late evening snacks risk getting into a vicious cycle. Sleeping disorders may develop due to overeating, while a lack of sleep should be compensated with the energy received from food during the day. Moreover, a lack of sleep affects one’s susceptibility to food stimuli, or to say it simply, it becomes more difficult for a person to refuse a second slice of cake after lunch or a cookie before going to sleep.

“I go to sleep late. Can I eat after 6 PM? How about eating before going to sleep?”

  • You can eat after 6 PM if you don’t go to sleep at 8 PM.
  • If you suffer from extra weight, watch the total consumption of calories during the day because it’s not only in the evening but also in the daytime when you can overeat.
  • If you’ve noticed that you eat a lot before going to bed, think about why you are overeating.

It can be connected with emotional issues. Compulsive overeating is an urge to always be chewing something in order to block anxiety or the feeling of guilt.

Evening overeating can be a habit that appears due to boredom or from a lack of activity. All you need to do here is switch on your willpower and stop chewing snacks without thinking. Then you’ll be able to have more control over your meal schedule.

Very often, overeating at night is due to you having a poor breakfast or lunch. If you didn’t get enough food in the daytime, you’ll obviously be feeling hungry in the evening.

  • Try to have dinner or a snack 2.5 to 3 hours prior to going to sleep. Avoid fattening foods.
  • If you start to feel hungry after you’ve already gotten in bed, don’t ignore this signal, but instead, try to give preference to fruits and natural yogurt instead of a sandwich.
  • Specialists recommend consuming products that promote the production of melatonin and serotonin in the evening. These can be found in dairy products, fish, turkey, bananas, kiwis, cherries, almonds, and honey.
  • If you suffer from diabetes or acid reflux, make a meal schedule with your doctor.

Bonus: how to improve your metabolism

There is a set of after-meal dos and don’ts that can help your digestion system work better.

Say “Yes” to:

  • Drinking lukewarm water
  • Wearing casual clothing
  • Communicating with close friends and family, and staying away from stress

Say “No” to:

  • Taking a bath
  • Sleeping
  • Drinking tea
  • Eating fruit

How often do you have late evening snacks? What do you usually eat? Please tell us about it in the comments!

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