A question that I often get from clients is “what time should I stop eating?” In the United States, people often skip eating throughout the day, or choose poor snack options and consume a large meal at night. For some reason, Americans believe that eating later in the evening causes weight gain, which simply is not true. For example, France is known to have one of the lowest cases of obesity in the world with only 1 and 10 people being obese and are known culturally to eat dinner between 7:30 and 10:00 pm. And many other cultures in Europe and Latin America follow the same tradition, so it’s not about what time you need to stop eating.
The problem related to eating late is all about the quantity of the food consumed, not the hour at which it is eaten. If you eat after 7 pm, you won’t suffer any negative consequences. The issue for most busy Americans is that food is not regularly consumed throughout the day, so dinner becomes the main meal. Hectic schedules, stress and a lack of planning all contribute to common reasons some do not eat over the course of the day. When dinner becomes one’s biggest meal, it’s easy to over-consume because by that time, the body is starving.
Optimal health and effective weight loss require eating small, smart portions throughout the day, and even into the evening. Your body and brain need to be fueled on a regular, consistent basis, even if you are not active. The reason is because our bodies contain a hormone called ghrelin, which is a hunger hormone. If food is not regularly consumed, ghrelin production spikes, driving us to overeat. That’s why eating throughout the day is beneficial – it controls your ghrelin level, which, in turn, controls your hunger. Eating throughout the day also keeps your metabolism active, which aids in weight management.
Even though it hasn’t been shown through science that eating at night makes you gain weight, having a big meal can not only make you uncomfortable, but also releases like insulin and the more insulin you produce, the harder it is to manage your weight. Therefore, I recommend following the 70% rule, which means you should consume 70% of your calories before dinner, leaving 30% of your calories for your evening meal. This 30% can be eaten at any time of the evening, but you must be sure you allow 90 minutes to digest it before you go to sleep. Often, people consume a high-calorie meal in front of the TV, which causes them to fall asleep right away. Do not misunderstand, this still doesn’t mean that they gain any more weight because of the time of day, but it can lead to digestive problems and reflux. By following the 70% rule, you can have more energy, control weight and your hunger hormone ghrelin.
Basically, calories are digested the same no matter what time you eat. So start your day off right: try to eat breakfast one hour of waking. If you exercise in the morning, consume a pre-workout snack, followed with breakfast after the workout. Then eat something sensible and moderate in size every 3-4 hours. I don’t care what you call the meal… just eat!