One of the most difficult times when your commitment to your diet is challenged is late at night. Having had dinner, the body is gradually transitioning to a shut down. And you start to feel hungry, again. Your natural response would be late night eating. However, what you might mistake for hunger, would be an expression of your body to crave for energy, not through eating but by recharging itself with sleep.
Food is our source of energy. Therefore, it is natural to crave for food when you feel drained at night after dinner. However, the best thing that your body should get at that time is the rest at the end of the day’s work. You would only make your sleeping more difficult by eating or drinking something that provides quick burst of energy.
It is well established wisdom from our forefathers that eat a good breakfast and eat your smallest meal at dinner. Apart from that general advice is to avoid late night eating because it can affect your health.
But is late night eating awful? How does it affect our health? And is late night eating has an association with weight gain?
What is lat night eating?
First off, we need to understand what do we mean by late night eating. While there is no scientific definition for that but generally it means eating outside the normal dinner times (6 p.m to 11 p.m.) But more importantly it means how close to your sleep time you eat. Ideally you should be eating your last meal at least 3 hours before your sleep.
Difference from Night Eating Syndrome
We need to make a distinction between eating late night and Night Eating Syndrome (NES), which is a well-defined eating disorder. For being qualified as suffering from night eating syndrome, you need to be consuming exceptional percentage of daily calories in the evenings and nighttime. Three of the following five criteria has to be met for NES:
- Intake of at least 25 percent of daily calories after having eaten the evening meal
- Nighttime awakening from sleep for at least twice a week
- Awareness of these nighttime eating episodes
- Impaired functioning
These criteria needs to be met for at least three months for satisfying the NES requirements.
Does eating late at night make you fat?
The short answer is NO. A recent study published in the Nutrients journal found that in fact small meals up to 150 calories at night are beneficial for muscle growth and cardiometabolic health.
However, this comes with a qualification. While body fat is not linked with what time of day or night you eat, eating late at night leads to many other unhealthy eating habits that are directly linked with weight gain. For example, your quality of diet that you eat at late night would not be healthy because of the limited options you would have. Unhealthy snacking would be most likely resort to satisfy that hunger.
Apart from that, you would also be sleeping less and it is a well established fact that lack of sleep leads to weight gain very quickly. One study by National Institutes of Health found a link between more late night eating and weight gain.
Sleeping late has also been linked with stress in life. And we eat mindlessly and larger portions when stressed. And stress and weight gain have association backed by science.
Eating before bed and digestion
While the jury is still out on effect of nighttime eating on weight gain, it is well established that late night eating does affect digestive health negatively. If you eat within less than three hours of your sleep, you are more prone to Acid Reflux disease, according to Dr. Jamie A. Koufman who is a specialist in treating Acid Reflux. And if you are suffering from GERD already, you would find your life really difficult.
Late night eating and your heart health
One of the prime benefits of weight loss is improved cardiovascular health. However, eating late would reverse the gains. A study at a Turkish University found that people who eat within two hours of sleep time have increased cardiovascular risks for heart attack and strokes because their blood pressure doesn’t dip while they sleep, which is otherwise normal for people who eat not close to sleeping time.
Research presented at American Heart Association also found increased risk for prediabetes and heart disease for those who eat their meals late at night. University of Arkansas for Medical Science recommends that you eat your evening meal at least three hours before sleep time.
Eating before bed and sleep quality
If you eat too close to your bedtime, your sleep would be disturbed because our bodies follow a circadian rhythm which means that our bodies expect to relax at night to rebuild and rejuvenate rather than remaining busy in high impact work of digestion. If body is not relaxed, sleep quality would definitely suffer.
Here is how you can avoid eating late at night:
You need to understand first that late at night it’s not the calories that our body is craving for. It is not definitely looking to digest snacky foods at night. Rather its focus is on restoring our bodies from the tiredness of the day’s work. And we all having been there know that we do not make the best of eating choices at night.
It is most likely that you will find yourself going for a pack of chips, ice cream, cookies or any similar junk foods which should not be making the big proportion of our daily diet. These are loaded with calories and a very bad way to add unnecessary additional calories to your day.
Make it one of your primary goals of weight loss to stop eating at least three hours before your daily sleep time when you hit the bed. This will ensure that your digestive system gets a natural break while you sleep. And elimination of extra calories that would have come from late night snacking would come as a bonus.
As a natural result, your will sleep more soundly and fewer problems with heartburn. And generally people also note better dieting success when don’t eat closer to bed time.
Once you have had your dinner, try to turn off kitchen lights and consider the shop closed. If you feel like eating something, something its dehydration. Drink a glass of water.
If you have developed a habit of eating something after dinner, why not introduce herbal tea to your regime, It will be a great way to unwind and relax in the evening time. Get your hands at a herbal tea that is caffeine free and add artificial sweetener like stevia for the sweet flavor.
You would be enjoying a zero calorie drink full of flavor. And most probably, it will soothe you with the warmth and helps your body get signals for coming into sleep readiness mode.
Late night snacking can be a hard habit to break, more so if you have been following the habit for a long time. But giving up eating late at night would trigger greater success for your diet plan.