Do you worry about putting on weight when you have to eat later than a particular time? Fret not, you are not alone. Many people worry about gaining weight due to the myth of eating after 8pm or late in the night. However, how true is the long-held belief? Let this article debunk this common misconception.
Does eating late cause weight gain?
Based on a study conducted in 2011, there is no link established between the timing of your meal and gaining weight. The study compared two groups of participants; the first group followed a conventional weight loss diet, whereas the other consumed the majority of carbohydrates in their diet during dinner. Spanned across 6 months, the latter reported greater weight loss and body fat mass reductions despite following a carb-heavy dinner.
In reality, what you consume is more important than when you eat. Your total intake of calories and expenditure matter most to achieve a healthy weight management. If you have already consumed a large amount of food in the day, late-night eating constitutes just excess calories leading to weight gain. However, if you are eating mindfully, such as a high protein snack with high-fibre carbs, it may reduce hunger pangs and help with healthy blood sugar control. Therefore, eat with purpose and limit late-night snacking as it helps to avoid unwanted weight gain.
Does planned meal timing work?
It is important to understand how our body processes calories so as to understand why eating late at night does not equivalent to additional weight gain. Our body works hard to break down food into energy for daily activities (walking, breathing, building muscles and even sleeping). This process refers to the thermic effect of food (TEF).
As the King of macronutrient, protein is the most “metabolically expensive” macronutrient that helps build, repair muscle and supports hard strength training. The more protein you consume, the more calories you will burn. However, there is no clear link between timing your meals and TEF. Theories have mentioned that having a heavier breakfast in the morning would lead to your metabolism working harder and to slough off extra calories, but your body does not care when and how often you eat in reality; as long as you are not contributing to excess calories!
Generally, dieting encourages you to eat smaller meals or snacks every few hours to keep your metabolism revving throughout the day. If you manage to burn more calories than you consume, losing weight is definitely achievable. An average Singaporean man requires 2200kcal daily and a typical Singaporean woman would need 1800kcal a day. Your daily requirement does vary depending on demographic factors such as age, gender, height, weight and activity level (HealthHub.sg).
Therefore instead of thinking how many meals and when to eat in a day, focus on what you are consuming and portioning mindfully.
So, should you be eating at night?
Poor food choices and over consuming of calories can lead to weight gain and also other underlying health issues. Mindless and emotional eating can make an innocent nighttime snack into a calorie bender. There is a higher tendency to eat out of boredom at night or due to stress, and/or anxiety.
It is also important to make sure that late-night eating is not interfering with your sleep cycles. Research has shown that consuming carbs in the night helps in falling asleep faster, however, it might also cause heartburn for some, impacting your sleep quality. A lack of sleep may also disrupt your weight-loss goals as it slows down your metabolism, increases appetite, and decreases the amount of calories you burn. A study conducted at Wake Forest University proved that people under 40 years old who slept five hours or less gained 2.5 times more abdominal fat compared to those who slept six to seven hours.
Hence, the time that you eat your meals does not affect how your body processes food. The important thing that matters is your total calorie intake and how much you work out in the day to burn off your fats. If you subconsciously reach out for high-calorie food in the night that you can do without, it may pose difficulties in achieving your weight-loss goals. However, if you miss a healthy dinner at 6pm, there’s no reason not to eat it at 9pm!
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