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I like to keep a latish schedule, sleeping often around 2-3 AM, I'm often eating odds and ends late at night. If someone eats Meals A, B & C of certain calorie content, and then timeshifts his schedule so that he's eating the same meals later at night, and closer to when he's about to sleep, will he gain "excess" weight? If so, why?

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This question had a bounty worth +50 reputation from claws that ended 17 hours ago. Grace period ends in 6 hours

Looking for an answer drawing from credible and/or official sources.

None of these answers show scientific backing. Can you guys please add some scientific references to what you are saying?

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@Billare - This question is subjective and hard to provide an answer that is non-personal. What you eat late at night could depend on exactly what you are eating and also on your personal metabolism. –  xiaohouzi79 Mar 9 '11 at 2:54
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@xiahouzi79 I don't agree. Assume all else equal, as in a scientific experiment. If someone eats Meals A, B & C of certain calorie content, and then timeshifts his schedule so that he's eating same meals later at night, closer to when he's about to sleep, will he gain "excess" weight? I think that's a perfectly coherent question. –  Uticensis Mar 9 '11 at 2:58
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@xiaohouzi79 I am only fuzzy on this -- that's why I'm asking the question -- but a plausible answer would contain words like: "circadian", "metabolism," "insulin levels", etc. –  Uticensis Mar 9 '11 at 2:59
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I'm pretty sure your metabolism, hormones and enzymes in your body and the way food is digested will have a say in it. Sadly, all the answers are more opinionated than based on facts... –  Ivo Flipse Mar 9 '11 at 13:48
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See the basically same question on Skeptics.SX: Does having late or heavy dinner make you fat? –  Martin Scharrer Mar 21 '12 at 18:55

10 Answers 10

What matters more than the time on the clock when you eat is the content and frequency. Consider the following facts about the pancreatic function:

  • It takes 6 hours from the last carb you ate for your pancreas to switch from producing insulin to producing glucogon. Glucogon is a fat burning hormone, and is designed to maintain a minimum blood sugar, and converts fat to sugar. It's the opposite of insulin which is designed to maintain a maximum blood sugar and traps excess sugar as fat.
  • Your pancreas is designed to have cycles of producing insulin and glucogon.

The most common time when we have more than six hours between meals is when we sleep. If we get the suggested 8 hours of sleep, and we eat carbs right before bed, you'll only have had 2 hours of glucogon production. To improve your body's performance, you may want to delay breakfast.

If you have several small meals 3 hours apart, and all contain some form of carb, your body will be producing insulin the majority of the day. Remember, it's designed to have cycles of insulin and glucogon production.

If you have those same small meals 3 hours apart, but only two contain carbs (breakfast and dinner), your body will switch over to producing glucogon in the middle of the day as well.

One of the reasons that many diets suggest no meals within 4 hours of bed time is that two hours after you sleep your body is starting to burn fat. That gives at least 6 hours of fat burning at night, and more if you eat an hour or more after you get up.

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Shouldn't "minimum blood sugar" be worse for the fat-burning since it's more economic? (ie, the body is adjusting to function on less energy than usual.) Also, seems like minimum/maximum level seems here to be a byproduct of other factors, not a deciding factor in itself. –  Cray Jun 13 '12 at 23:08
    
Glucagon pulls energy out of your body, including fat stores. Insulin stores energy in your body, including fat stores. Which would you rather have happen if you are trying to lose weight? –  Berin Loritsch Jun 14 '12 at 12:16
    
That's my point, write it like that, not with "high sugar/low sugar", which is misleading. –  Cray Jun 14 '12 at 14:21
    
Berin, I think your answer relates more to body composition than weight gain. The biological mechanisms may dictate how the glucose gets stored, thereby perhaps causing a higher or lower body fat percentage, but extra weight (mass) will not be created from nothing. –  Daniel Sep 11 at 20:32
    
I've also learned a few things since I answered this 3 years ago. –  Berin Loritsch Sep 11 at 21:08

No, it doesn't matter when you eat. What matters is what you eat and how much of it. I think we do best on a diet high in proteins and fats that excludes grains and refined carbs.

What can matter is how often you eat. For example, some people advocate a "grazing" style where you eat throughtout the day a large number of very small meals.

Others, such as LeanGains.com, recommend a 16 hour fast in a given day that is called intermittent fasting. I've had good results with it. I lost one pant size so far in 3 weeks, combined with a paleo diet, and I think the science is stronger on this side.

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+1 Good to see someone break away from the dogma. –  J. Winchester Mar 16 '11 at 7:34
    
I had been told otherwise by friends whom were doing full degrees in biology. When you go to sleep full your body turns it directly into fat. However, if you are not eating enough calories to live without digesting this fat, your body will consume the fat. So I think it is a case of people blaming the wrong cause for large volumes of weight gain. –  Kortuk May 9 '11 at 7:55

The only way to gain weight is eating more calories. It doesn't matter what time of the day it is.

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How many calories is not the whole picture though. Some calories are more likely to be stored right away, for various reasons (e.g., fructose, insulin spike causing foods, etc). –  JDelage Mar 11 '11 at 8:53
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@user - Do you have references to back this up as JDelage did in his answer? –  jmort253 May 9 '11 at 1:31

It doesn't matter what time you eat your meals. So long as you don't exceed your body's recommended calorie intake per day, you won't gain weight.

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Not getting enough sleep before midnight or limited sleep in general can lower the metabolism and also lead to increased urge for snacking to increase energy and stamina During the day due to fatigue. Suggested reading material: Counsel on diets and foods by Ellen G. White.

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Hi @April, can you provide more explanation as to why that is? –  Matt Chan Mar 20 '12 at 14:31

Of course it does!

If you eat late at night, and then sleep, your body does not use up the energy taken in. So your body converts it into fat. (how much fats are produced depends on how much carbs you ate). So make sure you eat your heavy meals during the day - not at the end of it!

But of course this depends on other factors (what is explained above is for normal people). Some people have a high metabolism so they don't save up lots of fat.

In my opinion, it is just better to stay away from eating at night.

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My claim: Night eating by itself does result in more weight gain than daytime eating. Night eating often means you eat something additional, more than you need, which can result in weight gain.

Study 1. Night eating and weight change in middle-aged men and women. Pubmed

Night eating was not associated with later weight gain, except among already obese women, suggesting that getting up at night to eat may be a contributor to further weight gain among the obese.

Study 2. The night-eating syndrome and obesity. Pubmed

Night eating syndrome does not always lead to weight gain...

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He can gain excess because of insulin. And of course the way insulin works has been exploited by bodybuilders seeking to increase muscle mass. So where one wishing to reduce their weight may want to eat their last meal several hours prior to entering REM sleep, a bodybuilder may actually consume two pre-retirment meals (setting an alarm clock four hours in to a rest period to get another protein window)

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If you burn 2000 calories a day and eat 2000 calories a day, 1500 of which you eat before bed, your body composition will remain constant. There's no fooling thermodynamics.

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Your body has to convert calories to something it can use, whether that be glucose or fat.

If calories are converted to glucose, your body is going to burn it off (or it goes to the toilet).

When calories are stored as fat, it takes longer for your body to access that energy because it now has to convert stored fat to glucose. This makes a person feel tired.

Eating before bed is going to result in more calories being stored as fat because the body does not need that energy while in shutdown mode.

If your body burns 2000 calories a day and you eat 2000 calories a day, eating shortly before bed will result in you feeling more sluggish during the day.

If you take in 2000 calories a day now and you made it a point to take in that fuel early enough for your body to process more of it into glucose, you are likely to burn more than 2000 calories.

If I eat at 6 PM and go to bed at 9 PM, that should be equivalent to you eating at 10 PM and going to bed at 1 AM.

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