You’ve probably heard warnings that eating late at night increases your chance of gaining weight: “Don’t eat after 8 p.m.,” “late-night snacks will make you pile on the pounds.” But is there actually any truth behind these claims or are they just a little too hard to swallow?
The fact of the matter is, how your body processes food does not change at certain times of the day. Though your metabolism does slow down at night, you are still burning calories to maintain your basic bodily functions, even when you sleep. So, whether you eat your meal at 5 p.m. or 10 p.m., your body will still react in the same way, and will store the same number of extra calories in your body. If unused, these calorie stores become fat, as we well know.
Though late-night eating habits can cause you to gain weight, it’s not because you have an inner body clock monitoring your caloric intake. Typically, it is because we are seated in front of the TV, mindlessly munching on snacks with less-than-stellar nutritional profiles. So, while the time of day doesn’t matter as much, it is possible that because you’re eating at night, you’re making poor food choices and that can lead to weight gain.
If you have a tendency to eat before going to bed, or to get up during the night for a quick bite, the reason you may notice your weight creeping up is because of the type of food you’re snacking on. When the late night cravings hit, most people reach for cookies, chips, ice cream, popcorn, or chocolate.
If you are a late night snacker, you may be choosing the food you eat not because you are hungry, but simply out of habit or convenience; you reach for the chips or cookies because they’re close at hand and you don’t want to prepare a meal. Another reason eating after hours may kick your weight up a notch is that you may be over-eating. People often over-eat at night be due to a number of factors including: stress and anxiety, loneliness, disorganized eating patterns, or a sleep disorder.
If you’re feeling a little peckish during the dark hours, make sure your nighttime nibble is small, and try to maintain control over how much you eat. Keep a container of chopped vegetables, or fruit and nut mix in the fridge, or indulge in a glass of milk and an oatmeal cookie to help you get back to sleep.