Does Eating Late Evening Meals Contribute To Weight Gain? By Rachel Schoeff

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We have all heard the saying “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince & dinner like a pauper”, but how much water does this old saying hold? First spoken by nutritionist Adele Davis, there have been numerous celebrity nutritionist & personalities from Oprah to Alicia Silverstone that have been proponents of this philosophy. The idea is that eating after 6, 7 or 8pm will cause your body to put on weight. However the reality is much more complex & like most things in the fitness industry, one general rule does not apply to everyone in every situation.

Maintaining weight is about balancing your caloric expenditure, i.e. not consuming more calories than your body is able to utilize in a day. Everyone’s number is different & is going to be determined by gender, age, lifestyle, activity & even medical condition. For example, I am a 27 year old female who is active & in good health. My daily caloric need is about 1500cal/day or about 1800cal if I am hitting the gym hard. If I based my diet off the FDA recommendation of 2,000cal/day, I would be exceeding my need by 200-500cal & gaining about 35lbs each year (wowza!) So it is very important to understand first how much your body needs to function. A great website is to help you figure it out is click on “Tools” >> “Daily Needs Calculator” & fill in the appropriate fields.

Now that you know how much your body needs, we can look at how our bodies utilize energy. The obvious ways are exercise & general moving about. However our body also burns energy breathing, supporting organ functions, during digestion, talking & thinking. During sleep, calories are expended for lung & brain functions (hello dreams!) as well as recovery of any wear & tear placed on the body during the day’s activities. Once your body has used all the energy it needs, the remaining calories are converted into fat, regardless of the time of day. So its 8pm & your tummy is grumbling, you have only consumed 1400cal for the day & know that you have about 400 to go to meet your daily needs, should you eat? Yes, yes absolutely because your body needs the calories for healthy function.

If this is true then why are people who we consider to be “health experts” telling us otherwise? Well the answer has more to do with HOW we eat at night. Post family dinner, most nighttime eating happens in front of the television. As our favorite Tuesday night show airs we are mindlessly munching away & next thing you know, we have consumed a whole bag of chips & half a carton of ice cream. The catch to eating, no matter the time of day, is maintaining the balance of caloric need. When we eat at night, we tend to overeat whether due to mindless munching or a deep hunger from over restricting our calories during the day (the downfall of sever dieting). Those celebrities who choose not to eat at night are practicing discipline which is an important factor in any healthy lifestyle.  But if you are hungry (truly hungry) then grab a healthy late night snack. Toast with peanut butter, lean protein, or even a glass of milk or soy is a great option. The best practice if you are eating in front of the television is to get your serving in the kitchen then put the rest away, don’t take the whole pie to the living room.

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