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Does eating late make you fat?

​While the evidence is mixed regarding meal timing and fat loss, the key point to understand when debunking the ‘eating late automatically leads to fat gain’ myth (there are others here), is the principle surrounding body weight gain and body weight loss.

Put simply, the total amount of body fat gained or lost over a prolonged period depends on whether you are in an energy/calorie surplus or deficit and not due to the consumption of a certain food after an arbitrary time-period. Once total calories (and protein) are matched, there will be no meaningful difference in terms of body fat between meal eaten at different times. Bodyscan likes the Instagram page of Graeme Tomlinson, who makes this point in post after post after post.

The late-night-eating myth likely stemmed from anecdotal reports among certain individuals consuming high-calorie foods and snacks at night when at home watching television. If these eating habits lead to a chronic energy/calorie surplus, an increase in body fat will occur. Without an understanding of energy, it is easy to point the blame at meal timing rather than the greater influx of calories as the primary cause for body fat gain (remember, fat loss and fat gain are determined by energy balance).

The best advice I can give is to experiment and find a meal pattern (meal timing and frequency) that works for you. Don’t be put off by the time of day once total calories are controlled and in-line with your goals.

Caveats:

• Individual variations with respect to circadian rhythm (your 24-hour internal clock) require consideration with any approach towards calorie distribution with some research suggesting that regular eating patterns may result in beneficial effects for certain metabolic health markers.

• Similarly, it may be wise to avoid having a large meal right before bed as this can negatively impact sleep. Large meals consumed very close to bedtime are associated with sleep disturbance. Sleep decreases the activity of the digestive tract, which may become overloaded during the night if food intake is excessive.  If you want to optimise your fat loss results, sleep quantity and quality need to be prioritised. 

Conclusion – eating late at night does not automatically lead to fat gain unless it contributes towards a net energy/calorie surplus. As with all successful dietary strategies for fat loss, choosing a meal pattern that suits personal preference, lifestyle, goals and one that leads to the greatest adherence trumps all!

If you want an idea of how many calories you should be eating to lose body fat, head to Bodyscan’s calorie calculators. If you don’t have a DEXA imaging report then click on the bathroom scale and you can take a guess as to how much fat you want to lose (this is fat, remember, and not weight) and over what time period and we’ll send you an estimate of your daily calorie target.

However, as explained in this DEXA information video in the Bodyscan series, a DEXA scan is the best first step to get a more accurate assessment of calorie requirements. Beyond the scan, we’ll use our expertise and experience to put you on the right road to achievable, sustainable fat-loss, all in plain English. Make your DEXA booking online and, if it helps get you over the line, bring a friend and have a 2-person Baseline scan. The same service for a lower price and some moral support from a friend or partner!

Kevin Garde
Bodyscan Consultant
PRISM Nutrition

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