I’ve heard many people say over the years that to lose weight, one strategy you have to employ is not eating after 7 or 8 PM. The theory goes something like this: Anything you eat after a certain time, say 8 PM, is just stored as fat and you will gain weight, PERIOD!

Uh huh.

This is a total caca de vaca myth and should be busted, destroyed, burned and the ashes should be sent out on a space shuttle and tossed into the sun for utter annihilation.

The truth is, CALORIES are still king when it comes to losing weight and no amount of not eating after 8 PM is going to change that. If you eat 4000 calories at 5pm everyday and nothing else, but only burn 3000 calories a day, guess what? Weight gain. PERIOD! That one you can take to the bank.I know of no single tightly controlled trial where the participants had their total intake controlled and they lost weight with more calories than they burned. Not a single one. Doesn’t exist.

So what about sleep? Will sleep affect weight? Does going to bed early help you lose weight, or at least keep it from sneaking up on you? sleep

Well again, the first answer is that if you’re eating too many calories, it won’t matter.

But what about those people that are being consistent with sleep and getting enough. Will it help in some other way? A recent study says yes.

Two groups of people were given food and it was monitored for calories. All calories came from the study.

One group was able to go to sleep and sleep around 9 hours. The other group was kept awake and were only allowed about 4 hours sleep, and were allowed to pretty much do anything, other than exercise, during that awake time.

The authors found that, “Overall neuronal activity in response to food stimuli was greater after restricted sleep than after habitual sleep. In addition, a relative increase in brain activity in areas associated with reward, including the putamen, nucleus accumbens, thalamus, insula, and prefrontal cortex in response to food stimuli, was observed.”

What does that mean? Our brain responds to stress in different ways than when we aren’t stressed. When we get less sleep, we are stressing our bodies. The putamen, insula and nucleus accumbens are all parts of the brain relating to reward. When the subjects were even showed food, these areas began to light up.

In other words, when you’re tired, food is more desirable. You want to eat more.

It makes sense, if things are stressful, you’d want food to be more important to survive. Of course with the constant barrage of calories in western civilization and the unique stress that we put on ourselves, it becomes a recipe for plumping up.

What’s more is that the sleep deprived group ate about 900 calories more while awake. 900 calories is nothing to sneeze at. That’s 4.7 Krispy Kreme donuts. Can you imagine eating almost 5 donuts on top of everything else daily and not gain any weight? You’d have to be doing some serious exercise, especially if your diet was already above maintenance.

Another study found similar results, an increase of over 500 calories per day. Another trial found that lack of sleep contributes to weight gain.

It’s entirely plausible that people eat when awake when they should be asleep from boredom, however some disbelieve this. In the first study, the subject were able to play games and do other things. Many people eat as they watch TV late at night. Some eat because of habituation, much like smokers. It gives their hands and mouths something to do, plus it tastes good….the eating part.

Sleep is great for other things too. Keeping your immune system functioning properly is part of sleeping enough. Repairing the body from workouts and muscle growth is also done during sleep. Sleep allows us to retain knowledge we’ve learned and generally keeps us in a happier mood than if we’re tired.

My advice is sleep. I also don’t generally eat after 8 PM. Not because I think there is magic involved to losing weight, but because I usually intermittent fast and I start around 8 PM. If you want a late dinner, say around 10 PM, that’s fine too. Or 6 PM, doesn’t matter, just be mindful of your goals and what you’re eating.

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