For a long time, health experts cautioned against eating in the evening or late at night because they said it would cause you to pack on the pounds. Or, worse yet, they said it would put you at greater risk of developing Type II diabetes because your body has a harder time metabolizing food when you’re less active during the evenings…or when you’re sleeping.
But I always wondered about the scientific veracity of that warning.
It always seemed to me that the quality of your meals is what matters most, not the timing. For example, in Spain and southern Italy—where they follow a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet filled with fresh, wholesome foods—most people don’t eat their biggest meal of the day until 9 or 10 p.m. And they remain among the healthiest people in western countries!
Plus, we now have some real data to help set the record straight…
Researchers with Johns Hopkins University recently decided to study the effect of late-night eating on overweight men and women. And they came away with one clear conclusion…
Does late-night eating cause you to gain weight?
For this 12-week study, the researchers divided 41 participants (many of whom had prediabetes or Type II diabetes) into two groups. One group ate 80 percent of their calories before 1 p.m. And the second group consumed 50 percent of their calories after 5 p.m.
However, what the participants ate—and the amount they ate—remained exactly the same for 12 weeks. (Both groups consumed what the researchers called “prepared, healthy meals” provided by the study.)
The researchers also measured the participants’ weight and blood pressure at the beginning of the study and again at four, eight, and 12 weeks.
It turns out, both groups experienced about the same reductions in weight and blood pressure after 12 weeks, regardless of when they consumed their calories. Of course, this finding surprised the researchers. They had thought that the group that consumed most of their calories early in the day would lose more weight. Especially since previous studies had already shown some benefits to eating earlier in the day.
However, most of those older studies did not strictly control or measure the amount of calories consumed. So, based on what we know from this well-designed study, it’s likely that those who lost more weight in the older study simply consumed fewer calories. And the time of day was irrelevant.
What you is eat far more important than when you eat
In the end, as this study clearly showed, the timing of your meals just doesn’t seem to matter much at all. Even if you have prediabetes or Type II diabetes!
So, if you tend to eat your main meal of the day in the evening, as do most Americans, that’s just fine. Indeed, most people I know find they simply have more time for a relaxed, expanded meal later in the day.
Just remember—it’s the quality of your meal that really matters.
So, as always, stick with a healthy, Mediterranean-type diet where you don’t have to obsessively count calories, sugars, sodium, or carbs. (Or the timing of your meals!)
Instead, focus on enjoying nutritious, whole foods, including plenty of:
- Full-fat dairy, including butter, eggs, cheeses, and yogurt. (Remember, in the Mediterranean, they eat cheese at each and every meal. But health experts typically overlook that point because it doesn’t fit their “anti-fat” narrative.)
- Wild-caught fish and seafood.
- Grass-fed and -finished, free-range, organic beef, chicken, and especially lamb, which has the best nutritional profile of all meats.
- Nuts and seeds.
- Six to eight servings of fresh fruits and vegetables each day.
- Alcohol, in moderation.
And remember, the body isn’t defenseless. Even if you slip up and “overindulge” on occasion, it won’t create great, long-lasting metabolic harm, as I explained in last month’s Daily Dispatch. So, go ahead and enjoy your holiday feasting this month…and don’t let the persnickety, modern-day Puritans or prohibitionists make you feel guilty about it!
You can learn much more about the connection between diet and disease in the November 2020 issue of Insiders’ Cures monthly newsletter (“What’s behind America’s poor diet and chronic health problems?”). If you’re not yet a newsletter subscriber, click here to become one!
“Calories by the clock? Squeezing most of your calories in early doesn’t impact weight loss.” Newsroom, American Heart Association, 11/9/20. (newsroom.heart.org/news/calories-by-the-clock)