There is no diet rule I have heard stated, and believed, as frequently and as strongly as this one – the time after which you should not, under any conditions, eat. People cling to it like a religion, with such conviction. And the scientific basis for this guideline? None. That’s right. And it’s not because it hasn’t been studied, because it has. Each time the conclusion is the same – it is not about the hour you eat, but about how much you consume relative to your body’s need. Yeah, but what about what Oprah says? She and her trainer say you should not eat after 8:00 PM, never mind hunger, or working late. But doesn’t it turn to fat at night? I’m not burning any calories so it must go right to my thighs, right?
Your body burns calories, its fuel, 24/7. As long as you are breathing, you are burning calories. As long as your heart is beating, calories are used. True, you are not using as many as when you are running or walking or moving. But you still require fuel. Yet you are not eating every moment of the night (even if you struggle with nighttime binge eating, there are stretches of time when you do not take in food). So where are these calories coming from which are keeping you alive? For the most part, we draw from a starch called glycogen, stored in our liver and our muscles. Between meals and when we sleep, we rely on this reserve to maintain our blood sugar and keep us going. Yes, even while we are sleeping we are using calories.
Now let’s look at how much sense this “Don’t eat after 8:00” rule makes. At 7:57 it’s okay to eat, but at 8:01 it turns to fat? And if you worked until late, maybe got stuck in a commute, and arrived home after 8:00 PM, have you missed your opportunity to eat? Why should your body no longer need the nourishment? What are we thinking?
So where did this thinking come from? I can only imagine that it was a well-intentioned attempt to help people limit their food intake. To have a cut off so people wouldn’t continue to eat when they didn’t need to. And I would agree, that if you just had dinner at 7:50 PM, and you are looking to eat again at 8:05, you should reconsider, but not because it is after 8:00! You should delay eating to give your body a chance to assess its need.
If you are in the habit of eating at night not out of hunger, but for the many other reasons we all reach for food, you should look closely at this pattern. What’s driving this eating? What are you looking for this food to do? Is it your way of relaxing? Or simply something you associate with watching television? And does it work? No doubt, there is a temporary benefit. If that eating didn’t meet a need, you wouldn’t continue to do it. So is there an issue with eating at night? Only if you are eating in a mindless, disconnected way. And when you are eating without regard to hunger. But if you are hungry, please eat, regardless of the hour. And enjoy every bite.