Eating at different times – is there an effect?

A common misconception that many people have is that eating late at night will make you gain weight. Or that eating breakfast will somehow make you lose weight. But both are wrong, with no scientific evidence to back them up. The assumptions make a lot of sense, so why are they not correct?

One of the theories regarding the breakfast myth is that eating somehow speeds up your metabolism, thus making you use more energy. The analogy is likened to a fire, where the wood resembles the food we eat and the fire itself is our metabolism (that is how much energy we use in a day). If you put more fuel onto a fire it will normally burn hotter and release more heat (energy). Our bodies are in actual fact very different to this with many internal controls to regulate how much energy we use and when. If it was like a fire, we should be able to eat as much as we like AND lose weight. But we don’t. Instead our bodies store excess fuel as fat or glycogen, ready to use it when there is no food freely available (like between meals). To use the fire analogy, our metabolisms are more like a fire AND a wood basket. When we eat, we put wood into the wood basket slowly being added to keep our energy release constant through the day or when we need to release a burst of energy (like in exercise).

But what about eating late at night? Surely eating a big meal at 9pm means we won’t have enough time to use the energy in the meal and we’ll store it as fat? Again, this assumption is not true. What really happens is that we use our reserves of energy (fat and glycogen) throughout the day until we eat, putting us into a calorie deficit. What happens when we eat is that we refill our reserves. If we eat earlier, the deficit is less (because it’s not long since we last ate) whereas if we eat late at night, it’s likely that it was a long time since our last meal, so we need to top up a larger deficit. Think of it like driving a car on a long journey. If you stop every 10 miles, you’ll only need to fill up a little each time but if you wait until the end of your journey, you must put a lot of petrol in to fill your tank. But overall you will have used the same amount of petrol (energy) for your journey.

What’s important is you find a strategy that works for you. Eating regularly at 3 points in the day helps many people maintain a healthy weight because it stops them getting too hungry between meals and overeating when it gets to mealtimes. NewWeigh products can aid in this as they are filling and nutritious, being packed with fibre and protein to help you feel full, but low in calories helping you feel satisfied when you eat. This prevents you getting hungry and eating too much, supporting your weight loss.

The Daily Energy Counter BMI calculator  is a very useful way of estimating the amount of  calories  you need to maintain your current weight or, if you are trying to lose weight it will help you set a calorie intake target.

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