You have probably heard the notion that food should not be consumed after a certain time of night. This suggestion is usually followed by a statement that food will “sit” on your stomach throughout the night and make it harder to burn away. Maybe you’ve heard it said that it is very unhealthy to eat late at night. Whatever the holdup or reason for saying you shouldn’t eat late at night, it’s time to put the debate to rest and ask, “How late is too late to eat?”

Let’s put the debate into perspective. Person #1 eats fast food at 6:30 PM. His or her meal consisted of a burger, fries, and soda (roughly 1000 calories… at least). Person #1 doesn’t eat a single food item throughout the night after 6:30, goes to sleep, and wakes up ready to start the day and eat breakfast. Person #2 eats a home-cooked meal consisting of grilled chicken, a vegetable, some dinner rolls, and drinks water. Around 10:30 PM, Person #2 is about to go to sleep, but they feel a little hungry. Person #2 goes to the pantry and eats some nuts and maybe some fruit or yogurt.

Who do you think is going to have an easier time maintaining or losing weight if this type of eating activity continues on a consistent basis? Person #2 stands a much better chance. The previous example is pretty black and white, especially because the comparison was between fast food and a home-cooked meal consisting of grilled chicken. But even if you compared two people eating similar healthy food items, and one ate nothing after 6:30, and the other ate a snack before bed, would your answer change? It might, because you could be led to believe all the hype you’ve heard about eating late causing weight problems.

The bottom line is this: your body metabolizes calories when they are consumed. If you eat too many calories, and you don’t burn them off with exercise, you will gain weight. If you eat a lower amount of calories, like the amount recommended, and you exercise regularly, you will not have a weight problem. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you eat. It’s all about how much you eat and what type of food you are putting into your body.

It’s all about a lifestyle. Your meals should be spread evenly throughout the day anyway, so if you find yourself eating smaller portions 5 or 6 times a day, and one of those times comes an hour before bed, don’t beat yourself up. It’s never too late to eat. Listen to your body. Don’t eat if you aren’t hungry, but if you are spreading your calories out as the day goes on, it’s ok to get the final calories of the day at night.America is obsessed with diets, fads, and the debate of “how late is too late to eat?” Yes. Eating late could stymie your weight loss, but so could eating at noon, and 7:00 PM if you are eating fat-filled and sugar-laden foods. Your body will metabolize your calories regardless of when you ate them. Don’t get lost in the time you are eating, focus on what you are eating. Most people who eat late are gaining weight, because watching TV or watching a movie late at night are great ways to binge eat the wrong foods and consume more than you should. Diets don’t fail. People fail at diets.