Eating after 8 p.m. doesn't mean you'll gain weight. Your total calorie intake and expenditure matter most when it comes to healthy weight management. However, limiting late-night snacking could help you avoid unwanted weight gain.
What the Research Says
While late-night eating can be problematic if you eat lots of calories, it doesn't always lead to weight gain, according to a review published in 2012 in Obesity Reviews. This review categorizes night eating syndrome as late-night eating, a depressed mood, and insomnia, and reports that some people are more susceptible to gaining weight from late-night eating than others. Another study published in 2014 in Eating Behaviors found that night eating occurs in both obese and non-obese people. In this study, night eating was associated with higher body weights only in people ages 31 to 60.
Muscle Mass Gains
If you're trying to gain muscle mass and you work out regularly, eating protein at night before you head to bed could be beneficial. A study published in 2015 in The Journal of Nutrition found that ingesting a protein supplement containing about 28 grams of protein and 15 grams of carbohydrate before bed after resistance training led to increased muscle mass and strength gains. However, if you don't exercise or eat unhealthy foods before bed you'll likely get different results.
Benefits of Night Eating
As long as you choose small portions of healthy foods to eat at night, you can maintain a healthy weight and may even reap several health benefits, especially if you work out regularly. If you have diabetes, eating before bed is a must to control blood sugar levels, according to a review published in 2015 in the journal Nutrients. Authors of this review point out that eating a small portion of healthy food containing about 150 calories before bed not only helps build and repair muscle tissue, it may improve your heart health. If you feel hungry before bed, having a small snack may help you sleep better.
Can You Eat After 8 p.m. and Lose Weight?
You can eat after 8 p.m. and shed pounds. This is because your total daily calorie intake and expenditure determine how much weight you'll lose. Many weight-loss diets encourage you to eat small meals or snacks every few hours throughout the day to keep your metabolism going strong. If you burn more calories than you eat, you should lose weight. Women often need 1,200 to 1,500 calories daily for weight loss, while men generally require 1,500 to 1,800 calories per day to shed pounds, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
An experienced health, nutrition and fitness writer, Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian and holds a dietetics degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She also has worked as a clinical dietitian and health educator in outpatient settings. Erin's work is published on popular health websites, such as TheNest.com and JillianMichaels.com.