If you're trying to lose weight, you've likely heard experts recommending cutting back on carbs. You may have also heard that eating carbs at night causes weight gain. We love our bread and pasta, so we had to get the story straight! We asked registered dietitians Stephanie Clarke and Willow Jarosh of C&J Nutrition as well as registered dietitian Samantha Bartholomew of Fresh Communications to settle this once and for all.
You'll be happy to hear that both Stephanie and Willow say, "there's no reason to completely avoid carbohydrates at night." This is especially true for healthy, high-fiber sources of carbohydrates like whole grains and starchy veggies, such as winter squash and potatoes. They provide important nutrients and fiber, which can help you feel more satisfied and contribute to weight loss — yes, even when you eat them at night. This is the best news ever!
Samantha agrees and says, "it's important to think about overall quality and composition of the diet as opposed to timing of macronutrients." If someone is eating a well-balanced diet with appropriate representation of all macronutrients, then when these nutrients are consumed isn't what's important — you just want to make sure you're not exceeding the number of carbs you need in order to lose weight.
Most people do a good job balancing their carbohydrate intake throughout the day, which helps provide a steady reserve of energy when paired with protein and healthy fats. Keep in mind that how you choose to balance out your daily carbs and other nutrients "is not a one-size-fits-all approach." Many factors come into play including your schedule, whether or not you work out, what time you work out, the intensity and type of workout, and most importantly, what makes you feel best.
Willow says, "if you're an evening exerciser, it might make more sense to have a slightly higher carbohydrate intake in the evening, as you'll want to have a bit of carbohydrate pre-workout, and a healthy balanced meal with some carbohydrate to replete lost glycogen stores after the workout."
It's also important to remember that your meals might naturally vary in carbohydrates depending on your diet. If you focus on plant-based foods, protein sources like beans and whole grains will be more carb-heavy. If you eat meat, your protein sources such as fish or poultry will be lower in carbs. Stephanie and Willow also note that some days you might have slightly more carbohydrates in the morning compared to the evening, and vice versa. All of this is OK!
What if you're the kind of person who eats processed carbohydrates and sweets at night, in amounts that don't make you feel well? Stephanie says, this can be a sign of anxiety or stress. So instead of "demonizing the carbs," find healthier ways to cope with your emotions — hello self-care!
With the various diet strategies out there, from timing of eating, to low-fat, to low-carb style diets at every extreme, Stephanie says research continues to show there isn't much difference in long-term weight loss between people who follow one diet plan versus the other. "For this reason, we advocate for our clients to practice mindful eating, and look to an approach that feels doable and makes them feel good both in mind and body. This is not only important for the end result of weight loss, but also for your long-term relationship with food."