Food doesn't gain more calories when the sun goes down, so eating late at night won't cause you to gain weight. Eating extra at night, however, will allow those extra pounds to hop on board, especially when you're tired and your resistance is lower to fattening comfort foods. There are ways to eat late at night safely, if you remember to control your calories overall.
Many people don't use meal plans when they diet, which means they take in too few calories for breakfast and lunch, or skip meals altogether. Deprived of nutrition throughout the day, the body starts kicking in with cravings and a growling stomach in the evening; often, folks will just give in to their worst cravings for a high-calorie, fat-laden dinner like a typical fast food meal with a burger, fries and sugary soft drink, and they'll keep snacking afterward. These kinds of diet patterns propagate the "late-night weight gain" belief.
The body burns calories, but it's what you eat and how much of it that determines if all those calories are worked off, or end up turning to fat. A balanced meal plan is very important, and should include enough lean protein, veggies and whole-grain fiber to keep you going; scheduling healthy snacks, like carrots with hummus, string cheese or even a small bowl of popcorn, is also part of a good diet. This kind of plan will keep you on track with the right snacks.
Often, people will end up snacking or even eating an extra meal at night out of habit, just because the food is available. If these extra calories go above and beyond a normal day's nutrition on a regular basis, then eating at night will contribute to extra weight. Focus on what you're doing; watching TV is fine at night, but don't sit down with a half-gallon of ice cream to do it. Of course, if you're actually hungry, have a small, healthy snack.
If your body clock is on a nighttime schedule, then eating at night is part of your routine. The primate research done by Judy Cameron, Ph.D., and other scientists at the Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) and published in the February 2006 issue of "Obesity Research," confirms that simply eating your meals after sundown won't make you gain weight, unless you're eating too much. Fat is added to the body over time, not because you ate an extra bowl of cereal at 11 p.m. last night.
It's easier to stick to a diet in the daytime, when there are other activities that demand your attention. But at night, when you're worn out, sleepless and your mind is racing, it's hard to resist that chocolate cake in the fridge. If you're binging late-night because of stress or unhappiness, then you may suffer from "emotional eating," a tendency to use food as comfort; this can pile on the pounds. Start an exercise program so you'll be tired enough to sleep and not snack at night, purge all fatty snacks from your kitchen, and keep healthy treats around just in case.