Night time eating and weight
The avoidance of snacking after dinner is advised for those trying to work their way back in to the healthy weight range. However, there is no need to be as strict as ceasing eating at 5 or 6pm (as many diet advice columns will suggest). This theory is based on the idea that any excess energy consumed at night will be stored as fat – due to our decreased activity. It is true that we are generally quite inactive at night and hence less inclined to burn some of the energy we eat, this is therefore one of the more credible diet claims. However, this is not the main reason eating a lot at night can lead to weight gain. If your energy intake over the whole day is in line with your requirements, you will not gain weight from having dinner at 7pm or a snack at 9pm.
Why should we avoid eating large amounts at night?
It is not so much the timing of night meals and snacks that is the issue (though it is best not to eat too late) but rather a person’s daily total energy intake. There is a link with eating late at night/ snacking and having consumed more energy over the entire day – hence leading to weight gain or inhibiting weight loss . Night time eating has also been associated with unhealthier eating habits in general .
A small study of 29 individuals compared restricted eating patterns against the participant’s normal eating habits . The restriction period involved the elimination of energy containing fluids and food after 7pm each night, for 2 weeks. No other changes were made to lifestyle or diet . The control period allowed the participants to return to their normal eating pattern for two weeks. Whilst this study has limitations e.g. small study size, conducted only on males and short duration, the results are still useful and logical. The two weeks of restricted eating cut out an average of 250 calories per day . This led to 0.4kg weight loss over the two week period – without any other changes required. The return to normal eating habits showed an average weight gain of 0.6kg over the 2 weeks .
Avoiding snacking after dinner can therefore be of assistance in those trying to lose weight. This will particularly be the case if a person regularly snacks on energy dense foods or if they snack on large quantities of food.
If you are still hungry?
How to avoid this
If you find you are getting hungry following dinner, perhaps you can trial filling your dinner plate with more vegetables. Vegetables have a low glycaemic index (they help keep you full for longer), they are nutrient dense and low in energy.
Stop and think
It is also important to recognise if you are actually hungry or if you simply want more food. Often people eat for the enjoyment, not due to hunger.
Snacking after dinner can also become more of a habit than a necessity. The good news is that habits can be broken! Stopping eating after dinner is something people can adjust to. Allow a couple of weeks to get used to the change before giving in – at first you may feel hungry or have to fight the urge to eat more.
Other positive benefits
It is also important to note that avoiding snacking after dinner and not consuming dinner too late will generally increase hunger levels for breakfast the next morning – a very important meal that people frequently neglect!
If you are still struggling
If you really struggle to go without additional food after dinner, perhaps leave one of your daily serves of fruit until this time. Just make sure your snack choices are healthy and not over-doing your total daily intake.
Contact us for results focused nutritional advice
This article was written by our dietitian Belinda Elwin who is a Dietitians Association of Australia member and Accredited Practising Dietitian and Nutritionist.
If you have questions about weight loss, make an appointment. We‘ll provide you with a simple and effective routine targeted to your concerns. Contact us today.
- Crowe T. Cutting Night Time Eating Cuts Kilojoules. 2014 Jun 18 [cited 2014 Sept 22] In: Eating Well [internet]. Melbourne: Deakin University.