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Does Eating Dinner Lead To Weight Gain?

May 23, 2016 Diet and nutritional guidance dragana

does eating dinner leads to weight gain

The summer is getting closer and plenty of people are on the mission to shred the excess weight.

We have recently been receiving lots of weight loss related questions related to correct way to eat for weight loss.

To be specific, we get a lot of questions about how late night eating effects fat loss.

Although the misconception of late night eating has already been debunked there are still plenty of worried people thinking that eating dinner late in the day will automatically negate all the diet efforts they made so far.
Some people don’t eat after 6, some people after 9, but the point remains the same-many people still believe that there is some magical cut off point after which body becomes the fat storing machine and that anything you eat after that point is being automatically stored as body fat.

So what is the logic behind that idea?

Because we are not so active during the night and we are preparing for sleep, everything that we eat (especially carbohydrates) cannot be used for energy and will be stored in our fat cells instead.

And although this idea sounds nice on paper, does that logic holds any truth?

How Do We Gain Fat?

For us to really understand how we gain or lose fat we need to understand the energy balance equation.
The energy balance equation is the relationship between our energy intake and our energy expenditure.
Energy intake represents the calories we are getting from the food we eat (actually the calories that we absorb after the digestion process)
Energy expenditure represents the calories that are being used by our body for different body functions (our basic physiological functions like brain or lungs functions for example and our regular physical activities as well)

The relationship between our energy intake and our energy expenditure is what is going to determine if we going to lose or store excess weight.

  1. If the energy expenditure is higher than our energy intake ( we are burning more calories than we are eating), than we say that energy balance is negative which means that the excess weight will be lost.
  2. If the energy expenditure is lower than our energy intake is (we are eating more calories than we are burning) than our energy balance is positive and the excess weight will be gained.

Now, just before we move on I want to say that there is more to energy balance equation than what we just said and that things are generally little more complicated regarding the equation itself.

Our bodies will always adapt on positive or negative energy balance by increasing or decreasing our metabolic rate, making us more or less hungry, influencing our eating behaviour and eventually the rate of the fat loss or fat gain.

In practical terms that means that if we eat less calories than we expend, our body can down regulate its own hormonal activity, that will slow down our metabolism making us spends less energy for the same amount of physical work, protecting us from possible starvation.

But this is another topic for another time.

At the end of the day, if you want to lose weight your body needs to be in the negative energy balance which means that it needs to spend more calories than it burns over certain period of time.

The same holds true in reverse for weight gain as well.

And this is why we need to understand that weight loss and weight gain do not occur in the vacuum, which means that we cannot look at a single isolated event like a late night meal and immediately conclude that we are going to store excess fat.

Therefore the points to note here are:

  • As long as you are in the negative energy balance (you are spending more calories than you are eating through the food) your body will lose weight (fat or muscle) REGARDLESS of when your last meal is eaten.
  • As long as you are in the positive energy balance (you are spending less calories than you are eating through the food) your body will gain weight (fat or muscle) REGARDLESS of when your last meal is eaten.

So you can choose to eat a big breakfast and to have a smaller dinner or you can choose to have small breakfast and have a bigger dinner, if the total caloric intake is the same in both of those cases there will be no difference in amount of weight being stored or lost.
The only way late night meal is going to make you gain fat is when the total caloric value of your dinner is surpassing your total daily caloric needs for that particular day.
So for example, if your daily expenditure is 2500 calories and you have a dinner of 3000 calories total, than you will have 500 extra calories that could be used in process of storing excess fat.
But that does not have anything to do with the fact that that meal was eaten in the evening.
The problem is that at the end of the day your total daily caloric intake was greater than what you were burning for that particular day.

But What About The Fact That Most Overweight People Eat Bigger Dinners At Night?

The fact that they are overweight does not have anything to do with their late night meals.
They are overweight because they generally eat excess calories during the course of the whole day.
If you are eating mindlessly without taking care of your total calories than yes, that huge pizza with double cheese at the night will most likely contribute to excess calories making you gain weight, however that does not have to do anything with the fact that that meal was eaten in the night.
Completely same result would occur if you had that large pizza for the lunch as well.
Again, if everything else remains the same ( the total caloric intake and the total energy expenditure), the placement of your meals during different times of the day is not going to have any influence on the rate of the fat loss you might have.

But Many People Lose Weight When They Cut Out Their Dinner?

Yes they do, and that does not have anything to do with the fact that they are not eating during the night time, they lose weight because when they cut dinner, they cut certain amounts of calories that that dinner has.

By cutting the calories they are putting themselves in the caloric deficit which in turn will make them lose weight. They could have completely the same results by cutting their lunch or breakfast instead.
Whenever people find the way to cut calories they magically start losing weight.
At least for a some time.


  • Don’t be affraid of eating your dinner because of the fear that eating at night will make you fat
  • The healthy and sustainable weight loss is about being aware of your total food intake and having smart food choices throughout the whole day, not obsessing about when you are going to eat
  • If you are a kind of the person that enjoys big breakfast and smaller dinner, than good for you.Keep doing whatever makes you feel good and gives you results you want
  • If you are the kind of a person that likes to have that big dinner with the family after you get back from work, you can have that as well.As long as you make smart food choices during the whole day and you are aware of your total daily food intake, dont be afraid to have dinner
  • You can still lose fat, but now in the way that will be more sustainable, that respects your meal eating preference and at the end makes you happier

Milos Rankovic, personal trainer