“Don’t eat anything past 8 pm because it will turn to fat and make you gain weight.” This myth has been thrown around and believed by many people.
It’s not when you eat that matters the most, but the amount of calories you consume (1). However, eating late increases chances of mindless snacking, which is why it is believed to cause weight gain. People have a tendency to “mindlessly snack” while sitting in front of their computer or television when they get home making it easier to overeat. People who do this usually are not truly hungry, but are eating out of stress, fatigue, boredom or habit. This causes them to make poor food choices and consume more calories than needed (2). Instead, focus on eating high quality food and portion control. Pay attention to your food, avoid distractions when eating and choose portion-controlled snacks (3). If you are hungry after dinner, there is nothing wrong with eating a light snack. Choose a healthy snack such as fresh fruit, greek yogurt or whole wheat toast with 1 tbsp of nut butter.
It is also important to understand your hunger signals. Make healthful food choices when you are hungry but stop when you are feeling full. It is recommended to stick to a consistent eating schedule. When you wait until you are extremely hungry to eat, there are higher chances you’ll indulge and consume large amounts of food.
Bottom line: your body does not metabolize or process food differently when it is late at night (2). Eating a scoop of ice cream at 2 pm is the same as eating a scoop of ice cream at 10 pm. Pay attention to what your body actually needs compared to what your mind is craving. Choose nutritious and healthy foods whenever you can while treating yourself in moderation with your favorite foods. Overall, it all comes down to the amount of calories you eat vs. calories you expend that leads to weight gain or loss.