Late night eating can add unwanted weight to your body—depending on how much you eat during the entire day. Late night eating will not, in and of itself, automatically cause you to gain weight.
If you consistently eat more calories than you burn (caloric surplus), you will consistently gain weight and add on body fat, no matter when you eat.
If you do eat a late night dinner, think about what you have already eaten that day. This will help you stay on track with your daily caloric intake goals. So, high-fat fast food is probably not a good idea for your late night dinner! The same goes for late night snacks—it all adds up, no matter when you eat it. If you like sugary snacks, the calories can add up fast and get out of control.
Late night eating is sometimes due to binge-eating.
The Mayo Clinic defines binge-eating disorder as follows:
“Binge-eating disorder is a serious eating disorder in which you frequently consume unusually large amounts of food. Almost everyone overeats on occasion, such as having seconds or thirds of a holiday meal. But for some people, overeating crosses the line to binge-eating disorder and it becomes a regular occurrence, shrouded in secrecy.
When you have binge-eating disorder, you may be deeply embarrassed about gorging and vow to stop. But you feel such a compulsion that you can’t resist the urges and continue binge eating.
Although binge-eating disorder is the most common of all eating disorders, it’s still not considered a distinct psychiatric condition. But if you have binge-eating disorder symptoms, treatment can help you.”
Personally, I will usually eat a light late night dinner (if I happen to eat late) like tuna and a salad. And, a late night snack will be something like popcorn, nuts or fruit. For me, its easier to sleep on a “light stomach.”
You should know how many calories you need each day. Start by learning your basal metabolic rate (how many calories you would burn if you did nothing all day), your daily activity and your goals. You must maintain a daily caloric deficit on most days in order to lose weight and burn fat. If you exercise regularly, it will be easier for you to achieve your caloric deficit.
Keep track of how much you eat during the day, whether its early eating or late night eating. Doing this will help you control your weight gain.
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Mark Dilworth, BA, PES