Written by Jackie Stevenson, BS, DTR
We have heard this question time and time again…
“Is eating too late at night bad for my health?”
The long-standing theory, simply put, is that a person should not eat right before bed because it doesn’t give the body time to burn the calories off. Instead, it is stored as fat, causing weight increases over time. There are plans dedicated to this theory, even stopping meals mid-afternoon in some cases, for weight loss. Research on this type of plan is emerging showing that it may be beneficial to weight loss, but more studies need to be done to prove it. If you’re a person who prefers to eat dinner at a reasonable time, strict plans like this aren’t really maintainable over time.
“Am I eating late at night because I’m hungry, or have I eaten enough and am just eating because I’m bored?”
The scenario of having a ‘second meal’ after dinner is most likely the reason why eating late is correlated with weight gain. Mindless eating due to boredom instead of hunger means you’re eating more calories than your body needs. Consistently overeating by a few hundred calories per day (a few cookies here, a bag of popcorn there) quickly adds up. An extra 125 calories onto your normal meal plan daily adds up to about a pound of extra weight per month! Keep in mind that it’s fine to eat something late if you are legitimately hungry, especially if you did more activity during the day than usual. Learn to read your body’s hunger cues to determine which scenario you find yourself in. Most people do require a small snack after dinner, which is usually built into their meal plans to avoid going over on calories. Feel free to contact us to determine how this fits in to your plan.
“I’m not going over my average calorie limit for the day, but I’m still gaining weight. What gives?”
There are lots of factors over the entire day to consider, but eating late at night despite calorie limits still has its problems. This article sums it up best: Your body expects to rest and fast while sleeping. Eating late raises your insulin levels, and cells become more resistant to it during this time. Long term insulin resistance leads to weight gain and the development of Type 2 diabetes over time, even if you maintain a normal calorie level. Additionally they have found high carbohydrate meals before bed actually leads to LOW blood sugar in the middle of the night. The body’s natural response is to wake you up to get food. Goodbye good night sleep!
“It’s 10pm, and I’m hungry! I lost track of time doing something, and now it’s too late to eat. What do I do?”
Here’s where the exceptions come in. Our recommendations:
- Don’t be afraid to eat. If you haven’t eaten in several hours and are legitimately hungry, you most likely won’t be able to sleep until your stomach is satisfied.
- Avoid nights like this by planning ahead, bringing extra snacks or planning meals out.
- On nights you find yourself hungry just before bedtime, have something small enough to make you moderately full, not overstuffed.
- Pick high protein foods like nuts instead of high carb snacks that cause blood sugar spikes. If you are craving a carbohydrate make sure to pair it with a protein or fat to avoid spiking your blood sugar. Check out Jacqui’s blog post on foods that are actually beneficial for your sleep.
- Make your best effort to eat small meals or snacks every few hours most day. Have your last meal or snack a couple of an hour or two before bed.
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