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Ask Tufts Experts August 2017 Issue

Q. I've heard that eating too late at night, like after 8 o’clock, could contribute to weight gain. Is there any truth to this?

A. Sai Das, PhD, a scientist in Tufts' HNRCA Energy Metabolism Laboratory, says: "Although long a popular notion, there is now some research (animal and human) that suggests the timing of meals could be important for body weight control and maintenance of overall health. While there is no hard and fast cutoff at 8 p.m., intervention studies have found that people who ate the majority of their calories earlier versus later in the day or those who ate a heavier breakfast versus dinner were better able to manage their body weight, despite similar reductions in caloric intake.

"Part of the reason behind this is that during the day, the hormones and overall metabolic processes in our bodies are better prepared to handle the food we consume than if we eat later in the evening when our so-called 'body clock' is preparing for rest. Although this body clock may vary slightly from person to person, the suggestion of avoiding eating after 8 p.m. is, broadly speaking, a good way to ensure that eating happens before our metabolism begins to wind down for the night.

"Other factors, such as the amount of calories eaten, the duration of sleep, weight history of individuals and genetics also play a role in weight gain, weight loss and regain. So, although meal timing is important, it is only one of many factors to consider."

To learn more: Circulation, February 2017

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