Eating 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.
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.
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.