Should you eat after dinner, or eat a big meal at night at all, if you want to lose weight?
Opinions do differ on this subject, and below are two experts' takes on this controversial topic.
Ori Hofmekler's Opinion
Biologists have been classifying species as day eaters and night eaters. For instance, cows are primarily day "grazers" and wild cats are primarily nocturnal hunters.
Humans are inherently nocturnal eaters. The evidence for that is in your nervous system.
Your autonomic nervous system regulates your circadian clock, and all your actions throughout the day and night are controlled by that system, including the way you were designed to eat.
Your autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts:
- The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) that regulates your activities during the day.
- The parasympathetic nervous system (PSNS) that regulates your activities during the night.
During the day, your SNS promotes energy expenditure and fat burning. It keeps you alert, focused and ready for action. When you're doing your daily job for instance or when you exercise, you're under control of the SNS.
But this system cannot tolerate large meals. And every time you eat a large full meal, you shut down your sympathetic nervous system. Instead, you activate the nightly nervous system, which is your PSNS.
The PSNS makes you sluggish and sleepy. This is why you typically get tired and sleepy after a big lunch. And instead of spending energy and burning fat, your body actually stores energy with a tendency to gain fat.
So how do you adjust your feeding schedule to accommodate your circadian clock?
There is a simple way to do that.
Have your main meal at night!
Your Ideal Daytime Meal Plan
During the day, eat foods that fit your SNS. It accepts light, fast assimilating, low glycemic foods.
This means that your best choices during the day are small, fresh, low-glycemic protein meals such as:
- Quality whey protein
- Raw eggs
- Raw vegetables
- Low glycemic fruits, such as berries
Note that quality whey protein provides your body with special amino acids and nutritional co-factors to support your SNS and daily activities. Whey protein has also shown to support weight loss, and it has been reported to enhance cognitive and physical function.
Raw fruits and vegetables promote detox and help alleviate your body's metabolic stress during the active hours of the day.
So what should you eat in the evening, for dinner?
Dinner – Why this Should Be Your Largest Meal
This is the right time to eat your main meal. Contrary to popular belief, supper should be your largest meal of the day.
Yes, it goes against what you've been told, time and time again. But regardless, evening is the appropriate time to eat large amounts of food; raw and cooked.
For protein, select slow-digesting proteins such as
- Wild-caught fish
- Organic, grass-fed meat
- Free-range chicken
- Eggs (ideally raw, or lightly cooked)
- Nuts and seeds
These slow-digesting protein foods nourish your muscles while inducing a long lasting anabolic effect throughout the night. Large nightly meals also help replenish your energy reserves, and they help elevate your body's metabolic rate.
I addressed this in greater detail in my book The Warrior Diet.
I've received thousands of testimonials from people who have managed to lose weight while eating a lot of food at night, and without the typical calorie restrictions required by weight loss programs.
But note that this way of eating doesn't allow you to "pig out" at night and eat whatever you want. You need to keep the following rules:
- Keep your meals low glycemic
- Avoid refined carbohydrate food, made with white flour, sugar or fructose
- Avoid refined vegetable oils
- Keep the right food combinations:
- Do not mix grains with nuts
- Do not mix grains with dried fruits
- Do not mix nuts with dried fruits
- Do not mix alcohol with grains . If you insist on having alcohol, have it with protein and vegetables. For instance, having wine and cheese is ok. But, having wine with pasta is not ok.
Most importantly, document your progress!
About Ori Hofmekler
Ori Hofmekler is the former editor-in-chief of Mind and Muscle Power Magazine, and the author of Maximum Muscle Minimum Fat, which addresses the science principles behind muscle gain and fat loss; The Anti-Estrogenic Diet; The Warrior Diet, and the upcoming book Unlocking the Muscle Gene/ North Atlantic Books. For more information, see this link.
Darin Steen's Opinion
You may have heard the old adage that you shouldn't eat past 6 pm if you are trying to lose weight. On the surface, it seems to make sense. But let's dig a little deeper.
There is a Difference Between Losing Weight and Losing Fat
Anyone can lose weight. But there's a big difference between losing weight and losing fat.
Common sense tells you that to lose weight you need to eat less and move more. A lot of uninformed people therefore increase energy expenditure by walking or jogging and severely restrict calories. I call this the "I'll run five miles and eat a couple of salads per day" syndrome.
This method will let your scale weight drop, but at what expense?
What are you losing?
What you lose with this approach is muscle, water, and anabolic hormones such as growth hormone and testosterone. You end up losing that which you need to feel strong and healthy. Once you get discouraged with this approach and start to cave in to your cravings, many times your eating will get out of control. And since you're lowering your BMR (Basal Metabolic Rate) during the calorie reduction phase, you now become fatter with less muscle.
This is the classic "yo-yo syndrome." It is a vicious cycle that is challenging to break without proper information.
When it comes to when and what to eat to optimize fat loss, first you need to realize that 'conventional wisdom' might not be so wise after all… For example, the classic recommendation to make lunch your biggest meal actually works against your natural biology. Ditto for not eating past 6 pm.
How the Starvation Mechanism Can Hinder Your Fat Loss Potential
Another oft-repeated recommendation you've probably heard is that you should eat three square meals a day. But this too can work against you, especially when you're trying to shed excess fat.
Eating smaller meals, more often though-out the day, helps your body function optimally by stabilizing your blood sugar and giving your body a steady supply of energy.When it comes to keeping muscle and losing fat, three square meals a day just doesn't cut it.
Eating small meals in and of itself helps to burn more calories and stoke up your metabolism. It also helps you side-step one of the killers of any fat loss program: the starvation mechanism.
Not too long ago man did not have easy and continuous access to food. We were dependent on Mother Nature, with seasons of bounty and scarcity. So through the evolution of mankind, our bodies realized that in order to live longer in times of famine, our metabolism had to slow down. Our bodies were forced to lose muscle in order to burn less calories and thus, survive.
Today, even though the risk of famine is very low, the "starvation mechanism" is still in your genes. When too much time passes between meals, your body goes into a catabolic state and muscle-wasting begins in order to slow down metabolism and burn less calories.
Keys for Eating Small Meals Often
If you are presently eating two or three bigger meals per day, simply eat half the amount that you are normally used to. This will increase your hunger 3-4 hours after you eat, at which time you can eat the other half.
Keep the above recommendations in mind however, and eat appropriate, lighter foods during the day, and make supper your main meal. Another simple trick that can help is to chew your food twice as long as you normally would. This will instantly help you control your portions. Chewing slow also has other benefits. Not only will you find that you can enjoy the taste of the food better, but your digestion will also improve.
The majority of your digestive enzymes are in your mouth, so chewing your food twice as long lets them do their job better, as the food stays in your mouth longer.
We all have a set metabolism, but it doesn't matter if yours is slow, medium or fast. We all have the ability to slow it down or speed it up with our lifestyle choices. And your nutritional intake has the biggest impact on metabolism than any other area of your lifestyle.
After eating smaller meals throughout the day for two or three days in a row, you may notice that your hunger is increasing. This is a sign that your metabolism is being sped up. After one to two weeks, you will likely start feeling your clothes fit more loosely, especially around your waist line.
Remember, you do have the power to change. You are in control of your metabolism with nutrition, exercise, and proper mindset.
And it's not just about achieving a smaller waistline; it's about having more energy, less stress, and more creativity and mobility. It's about having some energy left over after a work day for the most important people in your life, your family