Before I dive into the answer to the hyped-up question of whether eating late is bad for you, let’s clear the air of one important thing…
If you’re interested in the answer to this question from a weight loss perspective, it’s important to understand that people hate diets for one huge reason: the rules.
Avoid eating this. Make sure you eat that. Don’t eat after 6pm!
And then we go out to dinner with our significant other, off to a social event with co-workers, or drinks with a friend and our entire diet is BLOWN. That is no way to live. Will eating after 6pm really derail your diet and weight loss efforts? Actually, it depends, and we’ll go into that in a moment.
But diets don’t work because of the rules. So, if you’re reading this to gain motivation to QUIT your late-night snacking once & for all, slow your mind for a second. We ‘fall off the wagon’ for the simple fact that a diet was unattainable. That leads us to feeling like a failure and to thus refrain from ‘dieting’ again until we can no longer stand where we are… again. And thus this becomes a vicious cycle.
Diets don’t belong in your world. They don’t. What does belong in your life is a LIFESTYLE created around healthy eating… without rules… and with flexibility to live your life without regret. These sorts of habits take time to build, but the long-run outcome is well worth the small efforts given daily.
So is eating late bad for you?
This is, quite simply, a topic with a whole lot of controversy, varying information and opinions. It’s not a cut and dry answer and the verdict is still out as how to best answer this common question, but here is what you should know, and consider, when it comes to reaching for food late at night.
While eating at night has long had an association with weight gain, that doesn’t make it a cause-and-effect relationship. Much of this association may very well stem from the types and amounts of foods we commonly reach for after dark.
When we head to the pantry after dinner, or late at night, it’s usually due to boredom, stress, cravings and even habit…
And seldom actually has to do with hunger. We have a tendency to reach for high-calorie, highly palatable snacks (think: chips, cookies, candy, crackers, etc.). When we reach for these types of foods, it’s usually without attention to portion-control and it then becomes easy to ‘over-do it.’ Eating late at night can certainly become ‘bad for you’ if you’re consistently choosing unhealthy foods or foods with little nutritional value.
Additionally, eating high quantities of high-calorie foods can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to indigestion – so if this is something you experience and struggle with, it’s time to look at your eating habits. Eating late at night could certainly be ‘bad’ for you (especially with these types of food choices).
But really, is eating late at night bad for you in general?
Some studies have shown that when we consume food late at night, our bodies are more likely to store those calories as fat rather than burn them as energy. While studies have shown that your metabolism may slow down slightly in the evening as your body prepares to go to sleep, it doesn’t stop altogether.
In general, if you’re not going over and above the calories your body needs in a day, you’re not necessarily going to sabotage your efforts to stay healthy by eating after dark. Reaching for foods that are lighter in carbohydrates at night can help fend off undesirable weight gain, so choose foods like non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins, healthy fats and even a little fruit.
Keep it portion-controlled at around 150-300 calories. And a bonus tip: if you’re a regular exerciser, your body actually might benefit from a late night protein-based snack, as it can help your muscles recover overnight. But this doesn’t give you an eat-all-you-want pass.
Overall, there is nothing wrong with eating a healthy, portion-controlled snack after dinner as long as it’s not ignored as part of your daily total calories. We can’t just stop paying attention to what we consume after dinner – they still count!
While the verdict is still out on whether eating late is actually “bad” for you or not, there isn’t necessarily evidence suggesting that is it GOOD for us either (especially in the sense of the common snacks we reach for)… so if you’d like to work on your late night snacking habit, here are some tips:
Don’t restrict what you consume throughout the day. Forbidding food or not eating enough (which leaves you famished and hungry) is setting yourself up for failure when it comes for reaching for food late at night.
Don’t buy junk. If it’s not there, you can’t eat it.
Don’t go ‘cold turkey.’ Like anything else, going from zero to 100 isn’t the best way to set yourself up for success. In the same way that committing to exercising everyday (when you haven’t been exercising at all) is a surefire way to fail, so is going all-or-nothing on your late-night snacking habit. Take it slowly and recognize it’s a habit that will take time to ‘break.’
Opt for healthier, portion-controlled snacks. Pay attention to what you’re eating.
Remember one very important thing: life is about balance. If this is a habit you know you’d like to work on, work on it. But don’t beat yourself up when you have dinner late with friends or splurge on a cookie (or two) your child brought home for you. Clean it up and move on. Tomorrow is a new day.
Cheers to your health!