Busting Nutrition Myths: #2 – Eating After Dark Leads to Weight Gain

Good morning! I hope this post finds you well. I have been battling Hurricane Irma this weekend, but I am thankful to say my family and I are doing well. We managed to keep power (writing this on Sunday night), avoid the tornadoes just down the street, and survive being cooped up with each other! We will see how long the power stays on, as late Sunday night into early Monday morning is when the storm will be the worst. But, I am sure you guys are tired of reading about this hurricane, so let’s debunk some nutrition myths instead. What better topic for today than late night snacking? I know I did plenty of it during Irma because what is a hurricane party without food?

I know many of us have heard that eating after dark will make you gain weight or that it is bad, but I have some great news! Simply put: it doesn’t. Turns out, the body doesn’t really care when you consume your calories, as long as you are eating enough to sustain whatever energy you expend every day. But that is the key…”eating enough”. The reason some people may gain weight when snacking at night is they are consuming more calories than their body actually needs. Also, most people tend to choose foods that are very high in calories for their late-night pleasure. Let’s take my guilty pleasure for example…brownies and ice cream 🙂 So two brownies and two scoops of ice cream is probably pushing over 600 calories depending on the brand, and my daily maintenance calories are around 2,800. So after some excruciating math [(600/2800)x100%] we can see that they are about 20% of my daily calories…that’s a lot! Especially considering I probably have eaten most of my calories by the time I start to crave brownies and ice cream (9pm).

So what if you don’t know your maintenance calories and just want some healthier suggestions on what to snack on if you do get hungry at night? Well first off, let me start with a simple question…Are you TRULY hungry, or does the thought of food just sound good? Because if you are just eating because it sounds like a good time and you’re not actually hungry, then that’s probably just your mind. But if your stomach is actually growling, then you should probably get some fuel! Most people typically jump toward salty chips, decadent ice cream, or chocolate. I hate to break it to you, but you’ll probably have to eat a lot of these (aka a lot of calories) to fill yourself up.

My suggestion would be to have something with a little protein like:

  • A reduced fat cheese stick and some nuts
  • Some Greek yogurt with a few strawberries or almonds
  • Carrots and hummus
  • Treat yourself: a couple pretzels and a Dove dark chocolate promise

Protein is important because it will keep you satisfied longer than carbs or fat. Now yeah if you’re serious about health, a hard-boiled egg with some carrots might be a slightly “better” option, but let’s be realistic: that’s not sustainable or satisfying. The key is to satiate your mind and your body, thus we have the suggestions listed above. Even the pretzels and chocolate are less than 150 calories. So yes, it’s okay to treat yourself every once in a while!

*Just a quick little plug for my athletes out there…you will probably need a late night snack and calories are not the enemy here…go for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich or yogurt with fruit and nuts, etc. Nighttime is when your body repairs itself and it needs energy to do that!*

Now there are some considerations to be had. For some people, eating at night can affect their sleep or cause acid-reflex, so I do suggest trying to have this snack about 1-2 hours before bed to give your body sometime to digest. I also want to point out that I am not telling you that you have to eat at night. I’m simply saying that if you get hungry, having a snack won’t hurt you! Most of all, it is okay to have brownies and ice cream every once in a while. Having a healthy relationship with food is equally or even more important, so yes you can treat yourself every once in a while. Simply put: Listen to your body, and you’ll be alright 🙂

Take Aways…

  • Eating at night is okay as long as you’re not eating more calories than your body needs in the day.
  • Aim for foods with some protein to hold you over.
  • Listen to your body, not your mind! Make sure you’re physically hungry not mentally hungry.

References:

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