It's not when you eat, but how much you eat that has the biggest influence on your weight. We all need a certain amount of calories during a 24-hour period to maintain our weight. Even though we are less active when we sleep and our metabolism slows down, the calorie needs average out. If you eat more calories than you need, you will store them as fat whether you are wearing sneakers or slippers.So why do nutrition professionals advise us to eat more of our calories earlier in the day? Here are two good reasons.
First, the calories we eat during the day keep us energized. Properly fed people work better, think more clearly, are more physically active and just nicer to be around.
Second, in the evening, we tend to eat higher-calorie comfort food. This is often emotionally linked as a reward for a hard day's work, to alleviate stress or to banish boredom. When was the last time you munched on raw broccoli and a can of tuna while watching the "Late Show?" See what I mean?
Recently, I was fortunate to meet internationally known sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, author of the bestselling Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook (www.nancyclarkrd.com/).
Nancy's approach is one of practical advice supported by scientific data. I asked her about weight loss and nighttime eating, and her advice was to "diet at night." How do you do it?
You can start by distributing calories more evenly throughout the day. Americans are accustomed to consuming most of their calories later in the day, so shifting patterns won't be easy.
To help you make the adjustment, try to think of yourself as a car and food as the fuel. How much you fill up the tank depends on what you plan to do. Will you go to the gym, sit at your desk, run errands or watch TV? How long will it be until you can fill up again? How productive will you be riding on fumes?
Most people, especially women, try to lose weight by skimping on breakfast and lunch. This sets them up for midafternoon cravings that are usually high-sugar foods for quick energy. If you get hungry later in the afternoon, Nancy Clark advises you to have another "small lunch" instead of a snack.
If you look forward to a big meal in the evening, try substituting something else to look forward to. A favorite TV show or a good book along with a new flavored decaffeinated coffee or tea could be just what you need.
One more thing you need to do is limit nighttime noshes. You don't want to undo the benefits of a balanced day of eating with an evening binge. Some people vow to stop eating anything after dinner. This can be too extreme for most of us. Personally, I try to follow the 80/20 rule and aim to make positive changes at least 80 per cent of the time. It's more forgiving and works just as well.
Nancy Clark's advice to diet at night makes good sense because it encourages us to consume the majority of our calories when we need them most: earlier in the day. As Nancy told me, "If you wake up hungry, you'll know you are on the right track."