Have dinner too late at 9pm

Does late dinner make you fat?

There is a lot of wisdom about food and body weight. One of them is gaining weight from late dinner. But is eating after 6 p.m. really bad for our weight and health?

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In the morning a coffee and a little something "to go", at lunchtime next to work a sandwich and in the evening finally a warm meal: If you hardly have time to eat during the day, you are usually really hungry in the evening and then bite into it. This can be bad for our weight - but it doesn't have to be.

The good news first: late-night dinner is not necessarily a fattening food. This is also confirmed by Susanne Klaus from the German Institute for Nutritional Research in Potsdam.

"It doesn't depend on the time, but always on the energy balance of the day. If I have eaten well all day and continue with it in the evening, this can of course have a negative effect on the weight. But those who do not eat more than if it is consumed, it does not become thicker even with a late dinner ”, says Klaus.

Other countries other manners

The southerners are leading the way, because in Spain or Italy, for example, many restaurants do not open until later in the evening. It is quite normal there not to have dinner before 8 or 9 p.m. Usually hearty and fatty food is also served.

Even so, there aren't that many fat people there. This is partly due to the fact that there is less or no breakfast in these countries, says the expert.

And yet, the rumor that late dinner makes you fat remains pretty persistent. "The few studies that exist on this topic are contradictory. None of the analyzes has so far been able to prove beyond doubt that people who eat late are unhealthy or tend to be overweight," says Klaus.

A meta-analysis from 2017 summarized all studies on this topic and came to the conclusion that a connection between late dinner and weight gain cannot be proven.

Does late dinner make you fat? Sleep quality can suffer

If you eat a lot just before going to bed, you often have a completely different problem. At night we find it difficult to rest on a full stomach. The body tries to digest and that can cost us our precious sleep.

"Every large meal stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and that makes a lot of people more awake than sleepy. Some people don't feel it at all and still sleep well. It also differs from person to person," explains Klaus.

A greasy and rich dinner can throw the interplay of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system off balance. Then rest and relaxation suddenly turn into wakefulness and a sleep problem.

When we are in bed, digestion doesn't work as well as it does during the day, because at night our metabolism is actually set to rest and slows down: "Because of our biorhythm, we have lower blood pressure and a lower body temperature at night, which means we need less energy . "

Meal breaks are important

The expert also explains that it is important for our body to have time phases when we do not eat anything. This is usually the case overnight. Many studies show that intermittent fasting helps you lose weight. The 16: 8 model is very popular. So you only eat something for eight hours a day and then have a 16-hour meal break.

"Anyone who eats late in the evening around 9 p.m. and has breakfast again at 6 a.m. naturally shortens this break significantly. The organism is therefore constantly being fed. That can also be a factor in gaining weight. Ultimately, however, the amount is always decisive," so Klaus.

Not an ideal time for dinner

There is no perfect time for the last meal of the day. It always depends on your own biorhythm. Anyone who decides to eat a large meal in the evening because there is not enough time or rest for it during the day should really stop afterwards.

"Lots of people tend to have something to snack on on the couch in the evening. That way they ruin their energy balance and that also affects their weight," says Klaus.

So if you eat your main meal in the evening, you don't necessarily get fat - as long as the total amount of energy is right. If you have a good breakfast and also eat well during the day, you should rather avoid it in the evening or switch to light food in order not to get scared on the scales.

About the expert: Susanne Klaus is researching the physiology of energy metabolism at the German Institute for Nutritional Research in Potsdam.