March 25, 2009

You Ask, I Answer: Eating at Night

Why did you say [in your Michelle Obama post] that the principle of not eating late [at night] is hogwash?

Doesn't the digestive system interfere with sleep if it is still working full-time at bedtime?

-- Elsa (last name unknown)

Via the blog

The recommendation of not going to bed with a full stomach makes sense if you are talking about acid reflux or heartburn.

Finishing up a large dinner and falling asleep on the couch half an hour later can be problematic since acidic gastric compounds from the stomach can enter the esophagus and cause symptoms that disrupt sleep.

I was referring, though, to the common myth that not eating after a certain hour (usually 7 PM) leads to weight loss, as if there were a "magical" caloric bewitching hour.

Eating after 7 PM will only result in weight gain if whatever you consume puts you over your caloric needs. A piece of fruit or a cup of low-fat yogurt are no more fattening at 10 PM than they are at 2 PM.

What gets left out of these inane "weight loss rules" is that, very simply, the more hours you are awake, the more calories you are likely to consume. Hitting the sack an hour and a half after dinner doesn't leave as much room for hunger as staying up for another four hours.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of calories, did you see this article in the Huffington Post?

Andy Bellatti said...

I hadn't seen it, thank you for sending.

I certainly have my issues with Kathy Freston (one being her lack of credentials, the other her idea that shunning dairy, meat, caffeine, wheat, and alcohol for 21 days is somehow related to spirituality), I semi-understand what she is getting at.

I agree that, when it comes to weight loss, HOW you eat determines your experience.

For example, subsisting on 1500 calories of junk food for a month is a much different experience than eating that same amount of whole foods packed with nutrients.

I do take issue, however, with this quote:

"... you eat all the grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables you want--from black bean burritos to three bean salads to pasta with (faux) meatballs to spaghetti squash and collard greens to apples and blueberries (basically, if it's a whole grain, bean, fruit or vegetable, you can eat as much of it as you want)."

Although fiber certainly helps satiate (meaning it is easier to feel full with fewer calories), "eat as much as you want" is not very sensible advice, especially when you're talking about things like pasta and burritos.

I also have a HUGE problem with the title of the article ("Why counting calories never works"). It's irresponsible and inaccurate.

Quinn said...

I always thought the "don't eat after 6pm" rule made sense, not because that is a magic caloric hour, but because by then you've probably consumed enough calories for the day and it is time to stop. It's just a reminder that enough is enough, not a metabolic finish line.

Andy Bellatti said...


My problem with this "rule" is that it is not realistic. If someone finishes dinner at 7 PM and is up until midnight, spending five hours without eating anything seems pointless.

If one likes the structure of rules, it would be much more efficient to say something along the lines of: "An hour after dinner I'll have a piece of fruit, and an hour before going to bed I'll have a handful of almonds" (rather than raid the fridge or break open a king size Snickers bar).

quinn said...

yep, I gotcha. Makes sense. That's why you are the professional - you think it through to more than one conclusion. (also, you stay up until midnight and I am asleep by 9, so there's that, too !)

WifeMomChocoholic said...

I imagine that many people sit in front of the TV and snack all evening, so if they don't eat after 7, of course they'd lose weight!

Elsa said...

Thanks for the clarification.

The premise I had always understood about not eating late at night was that it deprived the body of as good of a rest as it could have had if the digestive system did not have to be active while the rest of the body was sleep. Of course, the effects would depend on the digestion time of the food eaten and on how late
the subject slept after eating.

I've searched for academic literature on the topic but haven't been able to find any concluding one thing or the other. There's a lot of research about Night Eating Syndrome but that seems be a largely separate issue altogether.