Eating after 8pm?

What’s the story on this diet rule? Whenever a weight loss discussion comes up, someone says “oh, I just don’t eat past 8pm, it’s worked wonders” or something similar. Where did this notion come from, and does any actual research back it up?

I’m guessing that it’s not so much the actual time of day that makes a difference, but the fact that you’re not snacking in front of the TV all night, and so you’re consuming fewer calories per day, in general. I have a hard time believing that a cookie eaten at noon will be processed differently in my body than a cookie eaten at 11pm. But I"m willing to be told I’m wrong - can anyone educate me on this?

I got into a huge argument about this not too long ago. I couldn’t find any concrete cites one way or the other but the general theory tended to be that people that eat late tend to eat food high in calories like pizza rather than healthier foods that they would normally eat at a reasonable time. They also don’t control proportions. If they would eat a regular meal later there would be no difference in weight gain or loss. Calories in-calories out and all that.

My doctor told me that to prevent heartburn one should not eat within two hours of going to bed. ‘An empty stomach is a happy stomach,’ said Dr. John.

I’m not a dieter. Or doctor. But don’t you burn less calories when you’re asleep? So if you ate soon before bed wouldn’t more end up staying put?

Here’s an article which provides one theory:

In a nutshell this doctor is of the opinion that while there is some evidence that bodies may metabolize slower at night, it’s more likely the idea of people eating at irregular intervals. If you go a long period between meals you are more likely to gain weight. So if you’re a late eater but eat lunch at noon and nothing in between it throws off your metabolism.

I saw a study not long ago where they had two sets of people on the same diet. Only difference was that one group ate their last meal before 7pm and the other after. Late-eating group gained weight.

They swapped the groups and got the same result (late eaters gained weight).

Unfortunately I can’t find anything online and I don’t remember where I heard about it. It was only one small study, so it’s certainly not absolute evidence but it does support the idea that eating late can cause problems.

Don’t live in Italy, then.
I dare you to find a decent restaurant that opens for dinner before 8pm.

It depends on how big your dinner is. If your largest meal of the day is (a) your last meal, and (b) you go to bed within 2 hours of eating it, that is a contributing factor to consistent weight gain.

Arguments about metabolism may or may not have any fundamental scientific backing, but logically, eating a significant proportion of your calories right before your sleep will impact on how hungry you feel over the day and thus how much you want to eat overall, because the sense of being full will not last you very long relative to your waking hours. I speak as one who has taken the ride.

Here’s a walkthrough example. Say you are awake 16 hours a day, from 7am to 11pm, and sleep from 11pm to 7am, and typically eat three meals a day – at 8am, 1pm and 7pm. Further assume for arithmetic’s sake that your maintenance level of calories is 2100. If you eat three meals a day, you should be averaging about 700 calories per meal to avoid gaining weight.

Now let’s say for argument’s sake that your eating and sleeping schedule has you eating late: you get up at 7am and go to bed at 11pm, but you’re eating breakfast at 11, lunch at 3 or 4 and dinner at 9pm. Further, assume that dinner is your biggest meal, so your breakfast is 400 calories, lunch is 600 and dinner is 1100 calories.

For 14 of your 16 waking hours, you’re operating on a feeling-hungry, needing-energy basis. The last two are spent feeling relatively or even very stuffed.

This makes it very, very easy to actually eat 600, 800 and then 1100 calories in those three meals, and 400 extra calories a day on a consistent basis quickly adds up to junk in the trunk. This is because by eating three times a day, you’re often pretty hungry by lunchtime and by dinnertime, with that 5 and 6 hour gap respectively between meals. And the “coasting effect” of eating a big, 1100 calorie meal will not “tide you over” until 3am or so – you’re asleep.

This is why it’s advised to eat FIVE times a day, say at 8, 10:30, 1:00, 4:00 and 7:00pm on the above routine schedule. Otherwise, come 1pm or 7pm, you’re so hungry that it’s very easy to eat way more than 700 calories at a sitting.

If you’re going to go to bed soon after your last meal (for example, my standard dinner time is 7:30pm and I try to get to bed by 9:30pm), eat enough at 4pm so that your 7:30pm meal can be very light.

And I say you are totally wrong. As ne who has “taken the ride” I find I do not get hungry until much later in the day and have the same amount of energy and no weight gain from eating late.

The singular of anecdote is not data.

Well, right back at you.

If you’re saying you pulled off defying conventional wisdom, that’s great for you. I’m not calling you out, and have no wide set of data points to show that either you are an outlier or exceptional case against the norm. But neither do you.

Conventional wisdom was borne out in my case. I can definitely say that if I eat a lot late, I eat pretty much the same amount in the morning, with the obvious net effect of eating a lot more in net calories by doing so. This makes as much or more sense as a justification for avoiding eat a lot right before going to sleep as saying that the calories somehow “go towards fat” more readily if digested while sleeping than not (which does not make intuitive scientific sense to me).

This is all in terms of regular patterns of behavior. Having an occasional night out at a restaurant, a 2+ hours meal followed by a few rounds of drinks and falling into bed and then sleeping in, will not result in 2 lbs. of fat put on overnight the way some people seem to think. Do this every week or more often, though, and I would think it would be an exceptional person who didn’t start packing it on.


That would be my point. You are basing your entire opinion off “conventional wisdom,” which is quite often dead wrong in terms of anything having to do with the human body. I put my experience to match and counter yours.

Or Spain.

Maybe it’s because people who eat later, tend to go to bed later, and get less sleep. Inadequate sleep can lead to weight gain.

Yes, but when do they go to bed, when have they had lunch, etc etc.

A piece of advice I give to Spaniards visiting the US is “figure when you’d do things in Spain and substract two hours.” For Americans visiting Spain, it’s add two. Doesn’t work all the time, but it helps a lot.

Mind you, Spain’s time zone is about 1½ hours later than it should be by solar time. that’s partly why they seem to do things later in the day.

So is the consensus that eating late is bad because it tends to disrupt eating patterns and therefore caloric intake?

IMHO, it’s because, at that time you’re usually eating for entertainment, not sustenance (assuming that you had supper earlier in the evening.) If I’m heading to the kitchen on a break from TV Land, I’m most likely not gonna go for a salad or a piece of fruit, I’m hittin’ the chips or ice cream!