Adobe Stock / Andrey Popov
Don’t worry, we won’t tell you to stop eating after 5pm, however, you may be doing a few things from the time you check out from work until you hit the hay that prevents you from seeing the scale move. While a small, sustainable calorie deficit is needed for weight loss, emerging research on circadian rhythms, meal timing and intermittent fasting shows that when What you eat may be just as important as what or what You are Eating.
Related: The Best Way to Lose Weight and Keep It Off Long Term, According to Experts
From mindless eating to staying up late, here are five things you should never do after 5 p.m. if you’re trying to lose weight, according to nutritionists.
1. Binge eating at the end of the day
Do you have an insatiable evening hunger that leads to eating everything in sight? Maybe a cheese board at happy hour or a pint of ice cream before bed. First of all, you are not alone. Second, breaking the habit is easier than you think. Dieting made you “eat less”. Therefore, it is possible that you are not eating enough during the day, which is counterproductive at night leading you to overeat.
To prevent binges in the evening, “make sure you make time to eat enough to meet your needs throughout the day,” says Nicole Stefano, MS, RDN, a culinary nutritionist from the greater New York City area. “This way you don’t feel energized after the time has passed. When we leave ourselves feeling super hungry, we are more likely to overeat before our bodies know we’re full,” she says.
It may seem counterintuitive to eat more throughout the day when trying to lose weight, but eating balanced meals with protein, fiber, and fat every three to four hours will prevent overeating at night and help you finish the day with a calorie deficit instead of a calorie surplus. And add an afternoon snack that contains fiber and protein, like an apple with peanut butter, so you don’t come into the kitchen hungry at 5 p.m. and overeat before dinner.
2. Eating directly from the bag
Don’t snack straight out of the bag or box, says Ruth Houston, author of the upcoming book, Eat Smart, Lose Weight: Scientifically Proven Ways to Lose Weight Without Diet or Exercise. “You risk losing how much you ate. Measure one portion for yourself (maybe two). Put the box or bag away and let it be.”
Eating chips straight from the bag leads to mindless eating, especially if you do it while scrolling on your phone or watching TV as well. Before you know it, you could be consuming calories in a meal. “Instead of mindless snacking, make a plan of what your evening snack will include (think produce and protein to fill your body and satiate you) and savor it. Turn off the TV and phone and just eat,” says registered dietitian Julia Stevens, MPH, RDN, CPT.
3. Staying up too late
Study 2021 in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Late-night eating has been linked to poor weight-loss efforts and increased triglycerides. The longer you stay awake, the more hours you eat. Plus, most people aren’t looking for the healthiest late-night snacks. Of course if you feel hungry, you should eat. But setting a bedtime can help prevent nighttime nausea that may keep the scales from budge. “When you lack regulation in your bedtime routine or stay up too late at night, that leaves more time for a snack—whether it’s out of boredom or just a regular habit. Instead, set a timer every night to remind yourself to relax, and keep going. Melissa Mitri, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and owner of Melissa Mitri Nutrition LLC says:
Not getting enough sleep can also lead to eating more the next day, according to a new study in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Researchers found that people who slept less than seven hours a night ate more snacks the next day than those who got more than seven hours of sleep. And the snacks were higher in calories and lower in nutrients (think: chips, crackers, and soda). This is partly due to the rise in the hormones cortisol and ghrelin, which increase the next day when you don’t get enough sleep.
“Try putting your phone away an hour before bedtime,” says chef and dietitian Julie Andrews, MS, RDN, CD, FAND. “It’s tempting to catch up on social media or answer emails before bed, but blue light can make it hard to fall asleep. Try a short meditation or sip some decaffeinated tea to help relax you for a good night’s rest.”
4. Skip the carbs at dinner
It can be tempting to skip the carbs (or other food groups) at dinner, but if dinner doesn’t fill you up, you’ll find yourself searching the cupboards two hours later. “When you don’t have a balanced dinner, you will likely end up consuming a lot of calories (not the nutritious kind!) once your hunger catches up with you,” Metri says.
“Carbohydrates provide fuel for our brain and central nervous system, and fats help absorb some nutrients, lower the effect of blood sugar, and contribute to feelings of satiety and fullness. Proteins are the building blocks of muscle and have the ability to boost metabolism and keep us feeling full and full. Saturate for a while. Longer. Eliminating an entire food group may promote feelings of deprivation, and that may lead to late-night binge eating,” says Marianna Denin, a registered dietitian and mother of three who specializes in sustainable weight loss.
Make sure your dinner is satisfying, too, says registered dietitian Jodi Barbie, MS, RD, author of Your 6-week guide to LiveBest. Dinner can be healthy without tasting good food, but, “if you nurture your soul and eat well, you’ll be less likely to snack later without thinking,” says Barbie.
5. Open the refrigerator without a plan
Physical hunger isn’t the only reason to eat. Eating is fun and relaxing, which is why we eat when we feel stressed, bored, or want something in particular. There’s nothing wrong with these reasons to eat, but having a plan for each scenario can keep you on the right track toward your weight loss goals.
First, set yourself up for success by getting tempting, highly processed foods (like chips, candy, and refined snack foods) out of the house and filling your fridge, freezer, and cupboards with more nutritious alternatives, like nuts, fruits, whole grains, and lean protein. Second, make a plan. “Keep in mind to eat high-calorie desserts that may not contain many nutrients,” says Andrew Akhaphong, MS, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Mackenthun’s Fine Foods. Refrigerate plain Greek yogurt to make a parfait instead of eating a bowl of ice cream full of added sugars. Or maybe have hummus – which is full of protein with a bit of sweetness – that you can dip the fruit into. “
There is no need to feel guilt or shame if things do not go as planned. What you do most of the time is more important than what you do now and then, but having a flexible plan can help.