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Pros and Cons of the After-Six Diet

"My friends told me that the easiest way to lose weight for students like me is through what they call the six-o'clock diet. I'd like to know what it is all about and how to go through the diet. Do you recommend it?"

"My 16-year-old daughter is into the fifth day of her 'after-six diet' that some of her peers encouraged her to do. She has already lost some weight. Is the 'after 6' diet a safe diet for a teen like her? She cannot be persuaded against this diet of eating everything she wants but not after 6 PM. What are the pros and cons of this diet?"

The "after-six diet" is the modern version of the old saying "eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper". The premise of the diet is that an individual can eat whatever they want and not gain weight as long as it is done before 6:00 PM because calories eaten during the day are not stored in the same manner as calories eaten at night. The "after-six diet" was made famous by sports and TV celebrity, Christine Jacobs, when she lost a substantial amount of weight a few years ago.

Expert claims.
In the past ten years, there have been many weight loss experts who claimed that calories eaten at night are stored more easily than calories eaten during the day. One of these experts, James O. Hill, Ph.D., an obesity researcher at the University of Colorado, believed that this was because there are fewer bodily functions happening while a person sleeps thus less energy is expended. Therefore, he said that most of the food you're eating at night is going into storage.

Another expert, Dr. Wayne Callaway of George Washington University, said that it was best to eat during more active periods - in the morning and afternoon. He advised eating at least half of the day's calories by the end of lunchtime. Dr. Jack Wilmore of the University of Texas encouraged eating early so fewer calories are stored. As impressive as all these expert pronouncements were, there was a problem with them. Expert opinions are just theories until backed up by solid research. Much of the research of previous years showed mixed results.

Contrary research.
A 1997 issue of the Tufts University Diet and Nutrition Letter told its readers to forget the much touted six o'clock diet because "eating fewer calories at night won't make you thinner". This declaration was based on a study that was published in 1997 by the International Journal of Obesity. The researchers studied the eating habits of 7,000 people for ten years. Those who ate 50% of their calories after 5 PM were no more likely to gain weight than those who ate 25% of their calories after 5 PM. In other words, there was no difference in weight gain over a ten-year period between those people who ate their biggest meal at night and those who ate their lightest meal at night. This is the first major study to disprove the popular six o'clock diet.

Half-true assumptions.
The assumption that fewer calories are burned while you sleep is correct because you are obviously not moving while you are sleeping. It is also true that the calories you eat during your 7:00 PM dinner will mostly be stored. However, this storage is only temporary since those same calories will be used up the next day (assuming that you are burning more or the same amounts of calories as you are eating).

Rachel Maclish, three-time Ms. Olympia winner in the early Eighties, admitted in her book, Flex Appeal, that because of her busy schedule, her biggest meal was at 10:00 at night! Although she believed in the concept of eating less at night, she rationalized that late-night eating did no harm since she was so physically active.

It is the total number of calories consumed throughout the day that matters most according to the nutrition department folks at Tufts University.

Advantages of the "six o'clock diet".
So if the latest research cannot confirm the scientific premise of the six o'clock diet, how come some people lose weight following it? The answer is not too hard to guess. If a person who normally eats a large meal (with a high-calorie dessert and some "midnight" snacks) every night no longer eats that meal, he or she shaves off a fair amount of calories from their daily consumption. The "six o'clock" deadline also works well for people who have a serious snacking-in-front-of-the-TV addiction. Just like an alcoholic who can't take even one sip of liquor, not eating at all beyond six o'clock may help snacking addicts stay "clean".

Disadvantages of the "six o'clock diet".
The worst misconception that many people have about the "six o'clock diet" is the idea that they can eat with total abandon during the day and expect those calories to magically disappear just because they consumed them before 6:00 PM! This is not true. If a person overeats during the day, they will still gain weight. I know many disappointed people who sadly found out that the saying "you reap what you sow" applies to daytime-calories too.

Another disadvantage of the "six o'clock diet" is the disruption of the family get-together during dinner. For most families, dinner is the only real quality time they have with each other. The family member who is not eating usually finds it too "stressful" and "tempting" to sit and watch everybody else eat while they don't. They either lock themselves in their rooms or end up giving in to temptation and eating with guilt.

Making the "after-six diet" work for you.
I do not recommend the 'after-six diet' per se. I, definitely, do not recommend that people eat whatever they want throughout the day (unless, of course, what they want is healthy and low-calorie) in the belief that, as long as it is eaten before 6:00 PM, it doesn't count. If you want to eat lighter meals at night, I don't see any problem with that, but, ultimately, it is the total amount of calories you eat that makes the difference. If you eat more than you burn in a 24-hour period, you gain weight. If you eat less than you burn, you lose weight.

The "after-six" diet can be a safe diet for teen-agers as long as they get the proper amounts of nutrients, vitamins and minerals during the day. If not eating after-six helps you to control overeating, then, by all means, go ahead and do it. Just remember that this diet is more of a psychological help than it is a physiological one.

Don't get obsessed with the six o'clock deadline the way Cinderella was with her curfew. If you eat after six o'clock, don't worry, you won't turn into a pumpkin!

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