If your goal is to lose weight, you need to be in a calorie deficit consistently. This means you need to eat and drink fewer calories than you burn off. We burn calories through physical activity, our basal metabolic rate (calories needed to keep your body functioning), and the thermic effect of food or TEF (the calories we burn when our body digests, absorbs and metabolizes the foods we eat/drink).
However, there are other factors at play that can put a wrinkle in the calorie deficit equation. Weight gain (or loss) is determined by many factors such as age, genetics, physical activity, gender, eating habits, medications, hormones, quality of sleep, gut microbiome and stress levels. But it can also be affected by when we eat. There is research that suggests people who eat too close to bedtime do not metabolize their food as well, and may be more likely to gain fat.
To minimize the weight gain that may be associated with eating too close to bedtime, it might be advisable to:
- Eat your heavier meal earlier in the day and a lighter meal later. For example, have your “dinner” at lunch and your “lunch” at dinner.
- If you tend to eat later in the evening, try to eat your last meal earlier; ideally 3-4 hours before bedtime
- If you need to have a snack at bedtime (for blood sugar management or other reason,) choose something light such as small fresh fruit with a handful of nuts, one serving of Greek, low or nonfat yogurt with 1-2 tablespoons of granola sprinkled on top, or low fat string cheese with 12 grapes.
- Eat regular meals (and snacks, if needed) to keep your appetite well managed, so you are less likely to be hungry later in the evening
- If you are an evening snacker, get tempting foods out of the house and replace them with lighter, lower calorie foods (see #3 above for ideas.) Avoid grazing and only have one planned snack.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of calorie free beverages throughout the day. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger. Sip on hot, unsweetened, decaf herbal tea at night so you have to drink it slowly and savor the flavor.
Managing our weight is not a simple process and there is not a one size fits all strategy. However, being mindful of what, how much and when we eat can aid us in reaching our weight loss goals.