Late Night Dinner: Tasty or Risky?

Mar 23, 2022Health

Does late night dining affect your health?

We have all been guilty of eating a late night dinner. Right?

Chances are that at some point you have found yourself in the kitchen late at night, devouring some sweet, salty or carb-rich treat even though you weren’t hungry.

Emerging research is actually indicating that the timing of a meal may have an impact!

Scientists are getting closer to understanding why people indulge after dark and to determining whether those nighttime calories wreak more havoc — whether they drive up the risk of weight gain and of chronic diseases such diabetes — than ones consumed earlier in the day.

For years, many dietitians said a calorie is a calorie no matter when you consume it, however emerging research is actually pointing that the timing of a meal may potentially have an impact.

Your Body Clock

Studies tend to show that when food is consumed late at night — anywhere from after dinner to outside a person’s typical sleep/wake cycle — the body is more likely to store those calories as fat and gain weight rather than burn it as energy.

In this latest study from Johns Hopkins University published in a reputed Clinical Trials journal suggested that eating a late dinner alters metabolic markers during sleep in a way that could lead to obesity or diabetes.

body clock food late at night

The Main Meal

Two recent studies have shed new light on the potential impact of timing. In a study of 420 overweight or obese people published in 2013, those who ate their major meal after 3 p.m. lost less weight during a 20-week weight-loss program than those who ate that main meal before 3 p.m. — even when the amount they ate, slept and exercised was the same.

“This is the first study to show that eating later in the day . . . makes people lose less weight, and lose it slower,” even when the amount people ate, slept and exercised was the same, says the study’s lead author, Marta Garaulet, a professor of physiology at the University of Murcia in Spain. “It shows that eating late impairs the success of weight-loss therapy.”

eat main before 3pm

Dining Like Kings?

Most Americans spurn the adage to “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” U.S. adults consume 17 percent of their day’s calories at breakfast, 24 percent at lunch and 34 percent at dinner, according to the USDA’s survey.

How to can stop your diet from getting derailed at night?

1. Don’t severely restrict what you eat during the day

Don’t restrict what you eat so severely during the day, says Traci Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota and author of “Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower and Why You Should Never Diet Again.”

That way, you won’t have to control yourself as much at night, and you won’t be preoccupied with feeling hungry and rebound with food you’ve been forbidding yourself to eat. “Most dieters say that their toughest time of day is post-dinner,” Mann says.

2. Keep junk food out of the house

Don’t buy tempting indulgences: If they’re not in your cupboard, refrigerator or freezer, you can’t surrender to them when you go foraging at 10 p.m. “If it’s not there, you can’t eat it,” Mann says.

3. Eat early

Eat your main meal earlier in the day if you can: Lunchtime is better than dinnertime, says Steven Shea, director of the Oregon Institute of Occupational Health Sciences at Oregon Health & Science University. And stop all eating about three hours before bedtime, says Washington-based dietitian Joy Dubost.

4. Keep after-dinner snacks small

Limit yourself to 100 to 200 calories, Dubost says.

5. Don’t go cold turkey

If you try giving up all sweets and alcohol all at once and promise to exercise an hour a day, you are probably setting yourself up for failure. “That’s too much,” says Heather McKee, who teaches behavior change psychology at Britain’s St. Mary’s University, Twickenham. “You cannot cope with that. You have to take measured steps. And take it slow.”

6. Take good notes

Keeping a journal and tracking what, how much and why you eat can help you foster the awareness that will ultimately help you resist temptation, McKee says. “If you track your lapses and understand your triggers, you’re more likely to overcome them,” she says. “Awareness is the first step.”

quote track your lapses


Helping You Discover, Empower & Prosper

Dr Arun Dhir  |  GI Surgeon, Health Reformist & Passionate Educator.

Dr Arun Dhir

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About Dr Arun:

Besides having a busy private practice at Melbourne Gastro Surgery – Centre for Weight Loss, Dr Arun is an active member of the ANZ Association of Gastro-Oesophageal surgeons (ANZGOSA), ANZ Society of Metabolic and Obesity Surgery (OSSANZ) and Australian College of Nutrition and Environmental Medicine (ACNEM).

Dr Arun is also a senior lecturer (Monash University) and yoga and meditation teacher, with a strong interest in the mind-body-gut connection. He regularly writes and speaks about gut health, gut microbiome, obesity, gastrointestinal surgery and healing. Arun’s published works include Happy Gut Healthy Weight (Balboa Press 2018), Creating a New You – Health Journal (Metagenics 2019), and Your Mess Has a Message (2021).