Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Why eating late at night is so bad for weight loss

As much as it might pain you to admit it, you have probably found yourself tip-toeing in the dark making your way to the kitchen and standing in front of the refrigerator rummaging for a snack or treat. 

While working late at night or binge watching your favourite TV shows, we often feel hungry or feel like munching on something. 

But let me ask you something —

Are those late-night snacks worth it?

Is late-night eating bad for you? 

Will it make you gain weight?

 Is it better to get something in your stomach before you go to bed? 

Before opening that fridge tonight, here are some things to consider —

Late night eating = mindless eating 

Throughout the day, we try to eat healthy and nutritious food, but just one wrong move and all your hard work goes down the drain. All the protein rich and low carb diets, exercising and calorie checking won’t do you much good because of your one mindless midnight meal. Eating late at night is bad because we tend to make less healthy food decisions. When the cats are away the mice are at play. Chips, candy, cookies, ice cream, instant noodles, a slice of cake or pizza. They may sound like a good idea but let me tell you, it’s not. 

Late night eating and weight gain

Late night eating and weight loss do not go hand in hand, it’s one or the other. If you’re trying to lose weight, you’ve probably been told not to snack late at night or before going to bed. Have you ever wondered why? Why is eating late so bad for weight loss? It’s all about the way your body adjusts its insulin sensitivity. Your body is more sensitive in the morning on purpose, to help fuel your body and get you through the day. Insulin resistance kicks up at night so the calories coming from your late night meals are being stored as fat while you sleep instead of being burned for energy throughout the day.

Late night eating and your body clock

Your body clock or circadian rhythm influences the best time to eat based on its effects on hunger, nutrient absorption, insulin sensitivity and metabolism.  

When you eat late at night, you are going against your body’s circadian rhythm. To match your body clock, the recommended eating window is less than or equal to 

8–12 hours a day. The key being during daylight hours. Eating outside of this 8-12 hour window can result in your body processing the calories less efficiently, which will ultimately lead to weight gain.  

Late night eating and metabolism

Eating late at night or even a wide eating window can increase your risk of developing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that includes insulin resistance, obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. All of which are not good for your body to function at its best. In the night, based on your body clock, your body is supposed to be winding down for the evening and preparing to sleep, not digesting food.

You may not actually be hungry —

Sometimes, if you are bored, stressed or hopped up on caffeine it’s hard to fall asleep. Staying up late is a gateway to late night eating. Cravings salty food or sugary treats might be a sign of dehydration, rather than a sign of an empty stomach. In actuality, your body doesn’t need food. Skip the extra calories and figure out what your body is really asking for.

Late night eating causes reflux —

It all boils down to the size and quality of your meal. Eating too late or going to bed soon after eating may increase your risk of acid reflux, which occurs when acid in the stomach begins to irritate the esophageal lining. So do yourself and your body a favour by eating on time and not overeating. 

What should you avoid eating before bed?

If you want a good night’s sleep, ideally, you should stop eating 3 hours prior. If you really need a late night snack, try to skip everything high in fat, salt and sugar like candy, ice cream, chocolate or chips. Two other night devils you need to be careful of are caffeine and alcohol.

What is acceptable to eat before bed?

The best-case scenario is that you don’t eat anything two hours proir to bed time. But that’s not always the case so if you’re hungry opt for options like vegetables (carrots, broccoli) with hummus, steamed or raw vegetables or cherry tomatoes or edamame, an apple or fruit, maybe a small piece of dark bitter chocolate or maybe a small bowl of yogurt. These options give your body protein and some healthy fat while also helping you feel full. Be sure not to overeat. 

What’s the best time to stop eating before bed?

It’s best to stop eating about 2-3 hours before going to bed. This gives your body plenty of time to digest the last bit of food you ate but also leaves a small enough window before sleeping that won’t leave you feeling hungry. 

If you suffer from acid reflux, it also gives you time to avoid or relieve symptoms before hitting the sack. Whether your last meal of the day at 6pm or 9pm, it’s the 

3- hour window that’s most important. It ensures less disruptive sleep and a healthier body when you wake to a new day. 

Simple tips to stop late-night cravings —

Here are a few basic strategies that might help you avoid eating late at night.

  1. Eat regular meals: Do not starve yourself! Eating filling and regular meals, high in fibre and protein throughout the day will curb your late night eating.
  2. Avoid keeping unhealthy snacks or junk food at home: It’s as simple as “out of sight, out of mind”. The more visible a food is, the likelier you are to eat it. If you’re tempted to snack at night but they aren’t there, then you can’t mindlessly eat. 
  3. Brush your teeth: When you brush your teeth, it’s like telling your body, enough for the day. You are done. 
  4. Drink herbal tea:  Instead of rummaging through the fridge late at night, try a calming herbal tea instead of an unhealthy snack. 
  5. Go to sleep early: If you’re asleep how can you have a midnight snack? 
  6. Awareness is the first step: “look before you leap,“ Keep a food diary to track what, how much and why you eat. This can help you resist temptation and even overcome triggers that tempt you to snack or binge eat at night. 

Last but not least…  

The quality and quantity of your meals are just as important. The best time to stop eating may depend on your individual preferences,  hunger levels and cultural practices. But make sure to stop 3-hours before you sleep. Going cold turkey is no way to curb late eating. You have to take measured steps and take it slow for it to work and be sustainable for your body. 

Before you make the hasty decision of snacking at night and then regretting it the next morning ask yourself– 

Eat with your mind, ask —  

Am I really hungry?


Vinita Alvares Fernandes
Vinita Alvares Fernandes is an Economics graduate, a writer and a Trinity College certified public speaker and communicator

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