Fitness Facts: Eating before bedtime
By Liz Cook
Registered Dietitian, Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic
Eating before bed is a pretty controversial topic in the nutrition world.
People often tell me they “know it’s bad to eat at night.” Many believe that eating at night will cause them to gain unwanted weight.
While this may be true in some scenarios, it is not always the case. Like so many things in science, whether you should or should not eat at night is not black and white. It requires a little bit more information.
If we look on the positive side, there are a few good reasons to include a snack at nighttime.
First, if you are truly hungry in the evening, it is better to honor those hunger cues and allow yourself something to eat instead of going to bed hungry. If you are someone who finds yourself waking up in the middle of the night because your stomach is growling, that is a pretty clear indication that you should include a snack before bed.
Additionally, if you are trying to gain weight, gain muscle and/or are a very active individual, eating before bed can help your body recover, repair and grow.
Finally, if you are someone who struggles with controlling your blood sugar, eating a snack before bed may help balance your glucose overnight and into the morning.
On the flip side, there are some reasons why eating a nighttime may not be beneficial.
Think about what stereotypical eating at night often looks like. Maybe you’re picturing chips, cookies and ice cream on the couch while zoning out and watching TV. This type of mindless eating at night is likely detrimental to your overall health.
If the foods you are eating at night are less healthy choices that you are eating in larger quantities than you generally would eat during the day, it may be something to re-evaluate. Additionally, if you already are full and satisfied, not hungry, it is likely a good idea to skip that snack.
Eating too much food too late at night also may impact your digestion and cause heartburn or indigestion. There is also some data that shows that eating a large quantity of food late at night may cause disruptions to your circadian rhythm.
One thing that is helpful to reflect on is the big picture of your day.
If you had a busy day and somehow it ends up that it’s 8 p.m. and you have only eaten one or two meals that day, it is important to give your body the fuel it needs and eat a meal at that point.
However, if it’s 8 p.m. and you already had multiple meals and snacks, you are not hungry. You are just bored, and it might be a good idea to skip that extra food at night.
Another thing to be mindful of is how much you eat throughout the day.
If you spend most of the day undereating, you likely will find yourself ravenous at night to try to compensate for the lack of food all day. If you find yourself falling into this pattern, it is likely more beneficial to eat more frequent meals to avoid getting to the point of “I am so hungry, I just want to eat everything” before bed.
If you would like to have a nighttime snack, what you eat matters.
Foods high in sugar may give you a burst of energy and decrease your sleep quality.
Spicy foods before laying down are more likely to cause heartburn and interrupt sleep.
High fat foods digest slowly and may cause indigestion when trying to sleep.
Caffeine and alcohol can both impact sleep quality and quantity as well.
Choosing healthy snacks such as fruit, nuts and yogurt can help you handle your hunger without impacting sleep much.
At the end of the day, practicing intuitive eating. Listening to your body is the best way to determine what is right for you each day.