Eating Healthy — A Matter of Time?

If you look at those who lose a lot of weight and keep it off over many years, a set of common behaviors appears. When 12,000 people with a weight loss of 30 lbs. minimum were polled; their success turned out to hinge on a few simple things:

  • 78% eat breakfast;
  • 75% weigh themselves regularly;
  • 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week;
  • 90% exercise (walking, gardening, jogging, etc.) about 1 hour per day
  • Low-calorie, low-fat diet was the norm for a majority of these maintainers.

A behavior not addressed in this study was the eating schedule of the participants. This is a rather surprising omission.

We have the means to access an enormous variety of foods easily. We also have the ability to feed ourselves at any hour of the day and night. “When should we eat?” has now another answer than the “when it’s possible” of our ancestors.

The potential health consequences of choosing a particular feeding schedule have been the object of preoccupation for decades. For instance, the issue of skipping breakfast or not has been debated since we acquired the custom of 3 daily meals.

Another divisive topic is whether one should eat late at night or not. Conventional wisdom state it contributes to weight gain or resistance to weight loss. It is very common to read advice to those who wish to lose fat to avoid late eating like the plague.

But is it true?

So far, there’s not clear cut answer. A 2007 study on volunteer obese women living in a confined setting where all meals were prepared did not show meaningful differences in weight variations despite very different eating times. Another study involving 78 obese persons showed a loss in weight, waist girth and body fat percentage for those eating their daily carbs at dinner than those who ate most of their carbs before dinner.

So, is it a yes or no?

In the face of conflicting results, more research was needed in the hope to resolve this question. Alas, after three other clinical trials of various durations, number of participants and design, the best conclusion possible at this time is; Eating late at night may lead to weight gain, but it is far from being as clear-cut as we may think.

With this clear as mud answer, what should be our take home lesson for those of us eager to keep a healthy weight?

The answer is to be mindful and observant of your habits. If you are inclined to eat late at night, note what KIND of food you reach for. If fresh carrots or an apple satisfy your appetite, it would be very surprising your eating schedule would be responsible for any weight gain. On the other hand, if you are tired, prone to get on autopilot and raid the freezer for any ice cream on a regular basis, there could be trouble ahead.