Late eaters are more likely to gain weight, study finds

Late eaters who have their biggest meals after 6pm are more likely to gain weight because they consume MORE calories overall and have an unhealthier diet, study finds

  • Total calorie intake is higher for people who eat later, a study of 1,200 found
  • Science has suggested in the past that people are hungrier later in the day
  • Hungry people might make worse decisions about what to eat and binge 

People who eat most of their calories after 6pm tend to have unhealthier diets and eat more overall, according to a study.

Researchers said that late eaters were more likely to gain weight because they tend to let themselves get extremely hungry during the day.

This makes them more prone to binge eating, making bad food choices and eating junk food in the evening. 

Whereas those who consume their biggest meals earlier in the day are often too full to stuff their faces at night. 

People who eat their main meal later in the evening tend to eat more overall and to have a less healthy diet, research has found (stock image)

For the latest study, researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland looked at more than 1,100 adults as part of the UK National Diet and Nutrition Survey.

The nationwide survey began in 2008 and collects detailed information on the food consumption, nutrient intake and nutritional status. 

The volunteers – aged 19 to 64 – were quizzed about their meal timings and food choices.  

The researchers found those who ate 30 per cent or less of their food at night consumed less total calories overall than any group.

Whereas those who ate half of their calories at night were more likely to gain weight and consume food with little nutrition.


Eating dinner late at night can lead to high blood sugar levels and put people at increased risk of being overweight, a study has found.

Scientists found that eating shortly before going to bed makes the body less able to process all the nutrients and glucose.

As a result, people burn ten per cent less fat overnight if they eat at 10pm, compared to having their evening meal at 6pm.

Researchers studied 20 healthy volunteers, ten men and ten women, to see how dinner time affected overnight digestion.

The volunteers all went to bed at 11pm and their body’s metabolism was assessed throughout the night as they slept in a special laboratory-bedroom.

Activity trackers provided data on the individuals while blood sampling was done every hour throughout the night.

Body fat scans were also performed and the participants were only fed food with specific labels that allowed scientists to track the rate of fat burning.

All the data was crunched and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.

The study found that blood sugar levels were higher, and the amount of ingested fat burned was lower, if a person ate dinner just one hour before bed.

Study author Dr Chenjuan Gu, from Johns Hopkins University in the US, said: ‘On average, the peak glucose level after late dinner was about 18 per cent higher, and the amount of fat burned overnight decreased by about ten per cent compared to eating an earlier dinner.’ 

Diet quality was assessed by scoring the food diaries kept by the participants using the Nutrient Rich Food Index, which classifies and ranks foods according to the ratio of important nutrients they contain relative to their energy content.

Lead researcher Judith Baird, from the Nutrition Innovation Centre for Food and Health (NICHE) at Ulster, said: ‘Our results suggest that consuming a lower proportion of [their calories] in the evening may be associated with a lower daily energy intake, while consuming a greater proportion of energy intake in the evening may be associated with a lower diet quality score.’

‘Timing of energy intake may be an important modifiable behaviour to consider in future nutritional interventions.

‘Further analysis is now needed to examine whether the distribution of energy intake and/or the types of food consumed in the evening are associated with measures of body composition and cardiometabolic health.’

The findings are due to be presented at the European and International Conference on Obesity (ECO). 

It comes after a study in January found people who skipped breakfast were more likely to have a high BMI.

Scientists found people who ate three-and-a-half hours later on weekends had BMIs 1.3 units higher, compared to those who stuck to their routine.

This remained true despite the quality of their diet, how long they slept for or how much they exercised. 

University of Barcelona researchers, behind the study, say our biological clocks, called circadian systems, prepare the metabolism to break down food at specific times.

Cells are programmed in this way so they know when to spend energy taking up or utilising specific nutrients. 

The metabolism becomes sluggish at breaking down food when it is caught off-guard by eating at different times. This seems to lead to the storage of extra fat. 

The researchers surveyed more than 1,100 students from Spain and Mexico to come to the conclusion.

They asked participants what time they normally ate breakfast, lunch and dinner on weekdays and weekends.

Almost two-thirds ate meals an hour later on their days off and breakfast was the most delayed meal, tending to become brunch.

The study found the greater the time difference between weekday and weekend meals, the more likely the students were to be overweight. 

Eating three-and-a-half hours later on weekends seemed to cause the most extreme weight gain, the equivalent of having brunch on a Saturday at 11.30am compared to breakfast on a Friday at 8am. 

People who ate this late on the weekend had a BMI 1.3 units higher than participants who ate at roughly the same time on weekdays and weekends. 

Dropping 1.3 BMI units is equivalent to someone who is 170cm tall and weighs 14 stone/196lbs (90kg) losing half a stone/7lbs (4kg).