This is a question I hear a lot: will carbs at night make me fat? Or worse still is the regular sound of self-berating at the confession of eating carbs for dinner from various dieters. A particular problem with the latter is that self-beratement is often followed by some form of self-punishment. Either some overzealous restrictions, back-to-back HIIT classes or a three-day binge – you get the idea. None of this is particularly conducive to a healthy self, but telling people to be nicer to themselves doesn’t always work. So I thought I’d explain why this isn’t even something you should be upset about in the first place.
So, will eating carbs at night make you fat? Short answer: No. Long answer below.
Eating more calories than you can use makes you fat. Eating carbs isn’t the problem – not eating them a night won’t make a difference.
A 2011 diet study found eating carbs at night had no negative effects on weight loss.
The Sofer et al study looked at 78 people over a six month period with BMIs over 30. They were split into two groups: the experimental group eating most of their carbs for dinner, and the control group eating their carbs throughout the day.
Both groups consumed equal calories (1300-1500) a day with a macro split of 20% protein, 30-35% fat and 45-50% carbohydrates. Blood samples and hunger scores were collected on day 0, 7, 90 and 180 every four hours between 4am and 8pm. Anthropomorphic measurements were also taken throughout the study.
The group eating all their carbs at dinner actually lost more weight than the control group. In the table below you can see the average reductions across each group.
What this means
Eating carbs at night isn’t going to make you fat. Eating too much food is.
If evening carbohydrates were responsible for weight gain, the participants in the experimental group would not have seen weight loss over the six month period – or would have at least seen significantly less weight loss compared to the control group.
Both groups lost weight over the six month period because they were in a deficit, meaning they were eating fewer calories than their body was consuming. Weight loss doesn’t need to be as complicated as avoiding certain foods at certain times. Just eat fewer calories than you’re used to.
The only way not eating any carbs at night could result in weight loss would be because of the reduced window for eating through the day. So if you weren’t on a calorie controlled diet and you were just eating whenever and whatever, but from 6pm you stopped eating carbs, chances are you’d be eating fewer calories than you usually would and thus shift in to or close to deficit. Unless you just ate what you would have eaten later earlier.
Moral of the story: don’t believe everything you hear and eat your carbs whenever you want.