As the old saying goes, “Breakfast for a King, Lunch for a Prince and Dinner for a Pauper”.
But should you really eat less at night? Here are some facts and tips along with some practical advice.
Can I eat Carbohydrates after 6pm?
The simple answer is yes you can, just make sure you don’t overeat. It is the over consumption or food late in the day which is the likely cause of weight gain related to night time eating.
There is not much conclusive metabolic evidence that carbs or any foods eaten at night are more likely to be stored as body fat. Metabolism drops when you are sleeping, but that simply lowers your daily energy expenditure. It is your total 24 hour energy balance (energy in versus energy out) that really matters for weight gain or loss. There are studies that suggest eating 6 small meals a day as opposed to 3 square meals are better for fat loss, however there appears to be no difference in success between the two ways of eating, as long as the total energy intake remains the same. In saying that, the answer to the question of is it better to eat small frequent meals throughout the day as opposed to 3 meals per day is up in the air – ultimately it depends on how much energy (calories) are consumed in total, as opposed to how often you eat.
A study suggests that keeping the meal pattern constant does have metabolic advantages. Researchers compared a regular meal pattern (6 meals per day) versus a ‘chaotic’ meal pattern (ie, all over the place/skipping meals etc) of anywhere between 3-9 occasions on different days for two weeks. The regular eating pattern was associated with a greater thermic effect of food (diet-induced thermogenesis – I have mentioned this before), which is the energy cost of digestion and absorption – yes, eating burns calories! There was also a lower energy intake, a lower fasting total and LDL (‘bad”) cholesterol with regular eating, as well as a slightly lower postprandial (after meal) insulin concentration with the regular pattern. According to the study, all these factors suggests that choosing a pattern and sticking to it, rather than skipping meals will assist with fat loss.
Personally, I think that the habit of eating regularly prevents you from overeating at night and gorging on easy snack and junk food in the late afternoon when you are starving because you have missed meals throughout the day. Eating regularly and choosing healthy smaller meals will sustain you for longer, reducing the desire to snack on junk food and high GI carb loaded food, which is nutritionally inferior food. Lets face it, we have all needed a cuppa in the afternoon after a hectic day as a pick me up so that we can survive the night shift, but if you tend to grab a bikky or something sweet to go with it for a quick sugar fix, you are taking in unnecessary high GI, sugary and fatty carbs, which is what you need to avoid if you are watching your weight. Reaching for these foods as a ‘pick me up’ is because our blood sugar has dropped due to skipped meal or low quality foods that leave us feeling tired and lethargic. If instead, we had a decent breakfast, a healthy morning tea, a substantial nutrient rich lunch and a light low carb high, protein afternoon tea containing good fats and lean proteins, we would survive until dinner time and be able to sit down to a light meal and still feel satisfied.
Examples of smaller meals are fresh fruit and nuts with a piece of low fat cheese or cottage cheese, yoghurt and low fat muesli, crackers with chicken, avocado and tomato, tuna and salad, an egg lettuce and tomato sandwich on multigrain bread. Always include lean protein to help with satiety, low GI carbs, lots of greens and good fats (avocado, raw almonds, etc) as well as fruits in your diet to keep up with all food groups and nutrients. Remember my rule to always eat RAINBOWS! Lots of fresh variety and make it colourful! Colours mean vitamins!
By eating this way your body is also getting good fuel to keep you going and feeding your brain so you don’t get tired. Your brain requires carbs to function and stay alert, just choose them wisely and avoid high GI and refined processed foods, such as white sugar, bread rice etc. GO FOR BROWN – IT WON’T LET YOU DOWN!
Another reason eating carbs at night can make you gain weight is because you eat too much of them! If you don’t eat enough during the day you risk greater hunger at night. If you skip breakfast, are too busy for lunch, or forget to snack you leave yourself open to overeating in the evening. If you plan your food for the day, and take the time out to eat regularly, you can satisfy your fuel needs and avoid overfilling late in the day.
Lastly, another reason we can overeat is that we are dehydrated. Often we think we are hungry when our body is actually telling us we are thirsty. Before you snack on crap, try having a big glass of water first. If in 15mins you are actually getting true tummy grumbles that are feeling of hunger, then have something to eat. Try to always consume 1.5-3ltres of water per day to avoid dehydration and unnecessary ‘fake’ feelings of hunger.