Eating dinner earlier can help move the needle on your weight loss goals, but this may not work for everyone.
With the increased popularity of intermittent fasting, what the ideal time is to stop eating at night has been hotly debated. For many years, R.D.s have been urging weight-loss clients to eat dinner earlier and stop snacking a few hours before bed. It seemed like a no-brainer, but researchers from Brigham Young University decided to put the theory to the test.
Jame LeCheminant and colleagues looked at the short-term effect that the restriction of nighttime eating had on daily calorie consumption, weight trends, and even mood associated with this deprivation. They recruited 29 young men and asked them to avoid consuming calories (water was okay) between the hours of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. for two weeks. During these two weeks the participants recorded every bite they consumed, and their weight, mood, and level of hunger at breakfast were monitored. There was a one-week break, and then for two more weeks (a control period) the subjects were monitored as they returned to their usual way of life. That’s it. There were no other interventions or exercises to perform.
Here’s what happened: The average weight change was a loss of nearly 0.4 kgs during the two weeks of nighttime fasting and a gain of approximately 0.6 kgs during the control period. While mood didn’t seem to be affected during the two weeks of restriction, participants in this group reported being much hungrier upon waking. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, given that hunger in the morning is likely to inspire you to consume the most important meal of the day (i.e. breakfast).
When participants avoided eating between the hours of 7 p.m. to 6 a.m., they reduced their daily calorie intake by an average of 238 calories. This helps to explain the weight loss of almost half a pound a week. Interestingly, their intake of fat decreased significantly while protein and carbohydrate decreased at a more conservative rate. This leads one to believe that the subjects were not eating grilled chicken and broccoli late at night—their usual late-night snacks were much higher in fat.
This study supports the already-existing advice that runners trying to lose weight should lessen the amount of snacks they eat after dinner—when done correctly, this is also known as intermittent fasting, or “an eating plan based on times you allow yourself to consume food,” Natalie Allen, R.D., an instructor of biomedical sciences at Missouri State University and the team dietitian for all Missouri State athletes, previously told Runner’s World. A popular intermittent fasting regimen is fasting for 16 hours and having an eight-hour eating window.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that this study was quite small and conducted on men only, which also means the findings may not apply to you. In the end, the “best” diet or eating practice is the one that works for you over the long term, so it’s important to keep that in mind as your pursue healthy goals.
Still, if you’re interested in trying out this method of weight loss, here are a few tips to keep in mind.
1. Keep it simple.
You don’t have to use any fancy apps to keep track of your eating habits in order to see results. The study authors state that “there were no gadgets or record-keeping, and the intervention was simple to understand and implement.” In other words, by simply not eating after a certain time, the participants took in fewer calories and lost weight.
2. Pick a time that works for you.
In the study described above, the participants had to shut down the kitchen after 7 p.m. What’s so magical about this time? By 7 p.m., the researchers found that most participants had likely already consumed dinner (so there was no need for the study participants to skip meals and totally deprive themselves and their metabolism). Study participant’s late-night snacks proved to be higher in fat and empty calories, but you can select a cut-off time that works for your preferences and schedule. And know that if you need a little something before bed, aim for a small, healthy snack like fresh fruit or veggies or a lean protein.
3. Make yourself a reminder.
Make a sign to put up on your pantry or fridge or set an alarm in your phone to remind yourself of the time to cut-off. This consistency can help keep you on track.
4. Eat dinner earlier in the evening.
After setting your “kitchen closing” time, determine the set dinnertime that works for you and your family most nights of the week. Sure, every now and again, life (think: sports practice, late nights at the office, etc.) will interfere. But by eating earlier in the evening, you’ll leave time for a brisk walk after dinner and certainly give yourself more time to digest before retiring for the night (and your heart and digestive system will thank you).