Why Eating Late Hurts Weight Loss

Eating Late Sabotages Weight LossEating dinner late, or indulging in regular evening snacking, perhaps while watching TV, isn’t supportive of your weight loss goals. The reasons for this have to do with digestion, blood sugar, and sleep.

The majority of healthy, fit Americans go to bed on an empty stomach, according to research. They are not hungry, they have just overcome (or failed to develop) the counterproductive habit of eating late at night.

Unfortunately, the majority of Americans are not healthy and fit, they are obese. Many of these people are taking in nearly half of their daily calories during, or even after, dinner.

“One third of people consume 15 percent of their daily calories after 11 pm.”

Late Eating Effects Sleep

Eating a heavy meal late in the evening tends to lead to indigestion, heartburn, and even nightmares. For most people, eating late in the evening does not lead to restful sleep, because it reduces the amount of a key sleep hormone, melatonin. Also, because your body is working hard on digestion, it has fewer resources available for cell repair, which is a normal activity during sleep.

Late Eating Effects Sleep

Sleep Deprivation Slows Metabolism

This can become a cyclical problem, since poor sleep is also linked to overeating the next day. If you’re sleep-deprived, your body slows your metabolism, and produces less leptin (a stop-eating hormone) and more ghrelin (a hormone that triggers hunger). So if eating late at night effects the quality of your sleep, a vicious cycle can develop that leads to more late-night snacking.

Eating Late Increases Blood Sugar

One study shows that eating close to bedtime can increase your blood sugar levels for a full 24 hours, putting you at greater risk for insulin resistance, storing excess sugar as fat, and even diabetes.

Another study (on mice) at Northwestern University found that eating at night led to twice as much weight gain – even when the total calories consumed were identical.

Avoiding Evening Snacking

1. Eat Right During The Day

The key to overcoming the habit of eating late in the evening is to eat a light but satisfying dinner at a reasonable hour. Try to include slow-carbs, which, because they are digested slowly, provide a long-lasting feeling of satiety.

2. Don’t Shop For Junk

Eliminate late night snacking by completely removing your habitual snack foods from the household. Simply don’t buy them. If necessary, find a fairly healthy low-calorie snack such as air-popped popcorn as a replacement.

3. Dodge the TV Triggers

It can also be very helpful to avoid television as you’re adjusting to this new habit. If you pay attention, you’ll find that television programming is full of temptation, when it comes to stimulating your desire for junk food. If you must watch television, perhaps you can choose shows on Netflix, watch DVDs, or TiVo your programs and fast-forward during commercials.

4. Ensure You’re Not Nutritionally Deficient

If you are experiencing cravings for specific types of foods in the late evening, you may want to consider whether you are nutritionally deficient. In some cases, it may simply take a week or two of willpower to break sugar addiction.

5. Don’t Skip Meals During the Day

Make sure you eat properly during the day. This means eating within a half-hour of rising (including some form of protein), and having a meal or snack approximately every three hours after that except for the last three to four hours before bed. This keeps your blood sugar steady instead of surging, and helps control hunger cravings.

If you’re eating clean, and focusing on nutritionally dense foods, you should quickly find that it becomes easier to avoid evening snacking, and to get a deep restful sleep.

6. Manage Stress

A lot of late-night eating can be associated with stress. It becomes a habit – a pattern of unwinding after a stressful day. Learn to recognize this as a form of emotional eating. Then you can choose healthier stress management activities, instead of sabotaging your health goals.

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3 Responses to Why Eating Late Hurts Weight Loss

  1. JGPangi May 7, 2014 at 11:07 pm #

    Eating too late puts you at risk for diabetes? Yikes! After eating (a light) dinner, how long should we wait before going to bed? Also, what qualifies as a light dinner?

    I’m a great fan of snacking, and I can say that it works to prevent heavy eating at dinnertime. I try to avoid that in any case, since the pregnancy has increased my tendency for heartburn.

    • DrBruce May 8, 2014 at 12:05 am #

      That’s what some studies indicate – eating late raises blood sugar and hence insulin resistance, which does put you at risk. Just leave yourself time to digest before bed whenever possible. Three hours would be good.

      What a light dinner is for you depends on your personal eating preferences and body weight, but I think a good generalization would be that you don’t want to take in more than about a third of your daily calories for your last meal of the day. A quarter would probably be better. In other words, don’t skip eating all day and then gorge yourself just before bed. Eating a solid lunch and a lighter dinner is a better plan.

      Healthy snacks or frequent small meals are good choices. Of course, it all depends on what works best for your lifestyle, personal health issues, and of course your pregnancy.

      You may want to experiment with reducing your wheat consumption if you’re having heartburn issues.

  2. Peter-gay June 16, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

    Eating late hurts weight loss because the body is usually in a slumber state in the nights. As a result, the body in its idle state finds it difficult to digest food. During the day, the food is metabolized well as work is often being performed at a faster rate which results in energy production; during the nights metabolism slows down, work is not done hence energy is not produced. The energy as a result finds comfort in being stored as fats as sugar is not metabolized. Note, sugar usually metabolized to produce energy if sugar cannot metabolize, it will store as fats.

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