Ask a Dietitian: Is It Bad to Eat Dinner Late at Night?

Between working long hours and managing general life admin, it can be easy to forget about dinner until well after 7 pm. All of a sudden, it’s nearing bedtime and the sound of your stomach grumbling could be mistaken for a low-flying plane. But is eating dinner late at night really as bad as it’s made out to be?

We've looked at how the timing of our meals can affect our health and metabolism before, but dinner is the one meal most people are particularly curious about. 

According to a new study, the time you eat might be pretty important. Eating a late dinner can contribute to weight gain and high blood sugar.

Here's what they found

Researchers studied 20 healthy volunteers (10 men and 10 women) to see how they metabolised dinner eaten at 10 pm compared to 6 pm. The participants ate the exact same meal and all went to bed at 11 pm. 

Participants wore activity trackers, had blood sampling every hour while staying in a lab, underwent sleep studies and body fat scans, and ate food that contained non-radioactive labels so that the rate of fat burning (oxidation) could be determined. 

The researchers found that blood sugar levels were higher, and the amount of ingested fat burned was lower, in those who consumed a later dinner. On average, the peak glucose level after late dinner was about 18 percent higher, and the amount of fat burned overnight decreased by about 10 percent, compared to eating an earlier dinner.

⁠What does this mean?

Clearly this isn't to say that if you need to eat dinner later due to work/training/life that you will gain weight. This study is nowhere near big enough (20 is a very small sample size), and weight gain is about WAY more than just the time you’re chowing down. However, it is an interesting piece of research, and it’s something to keep in mind when looking at your lifestyle and routine.

How can I optimise my dinner time?

If you can, aim to eat dinner at least a couple of hours before going to bed, as this will give your body more time to digest. Remember to load your plate with plants as the nutrients from these foods are extremely beneficial for our health

Eat slowly and mindfully when you do sit down to enjoy your meal (whatever that time may be) as this helps to reduce overeating and increases satisfaction from your meals.

And most importantly, don’t stress! If you eat your dinner late this does not automatically mean you will put on weight, especially if you only do so occasionally. You should not be worried or skip this meal if you feel it is too close to bedtime – it is always more important to get the energy and nutrients your body needs to function properly.

Explore more content like this in our series, Ask a Dietitian

Health & Performance Collective is the brainchild of Sydney Dietitians Jessica Spendlove and Chloe McLeod. They use their 20 years of combined knowledge and skills as dietitians to work with motivated people to live and perform at their best.

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