When it comes to snacking within an hour or two of your bedtime, there’s a few things to consider: First, research does link late-night calories to the potential for weight gain. On the other hand, trying to catch shuteye when your stomach is making scary growling sounds isn’t a smart idea, either.
Does Eating Before Bed Keep You From Losing Weight?
Despite what you might have heard, eating food after a certain time isn’t in-and-of-itself going to keep you from losing weight. That’s like saying eating breakfast makes you gain weight.
While proponents of not eating after a certain time tout their results, you have to question if the weight loss was a result of not eating after a certain time, or if it was simply due to eating less food over the course of the day.
Weight Loss is About Negative Energy Balance Over Time
This is why when you eat has very little effect on your body composition. There are some merits to meal timing, but the effects are small, and are only noticeable after your calorie intake and macronutrient ratios are dialed in.
Let’s look at the situation differently. If your maintenance calories are 2000 calories, and you eat 2500 calories but stop eating before 6pm, you’re going to gain weight. Stopping eating isn’t going to change your energy balance.
What do you think is going to happen if you instead eat 1800 calories but eat your last meal at 9pm? Do you think you’re going to gain weight when you’re eating under maintenance calories?
The answer is no. You will lose weight, as you created a 200 calorie deficit. This energy deficit will accumulate over time and result in weight loss.
But I Weigh More the Next Morning When I Eat Late at Night
I’m sure you do. Food weighs something, and the closer to your last meal that you weigh yourself, the more you’re going to weigh.
To test this, simply eat a meal and then weigh yourself at 1 hour intervals until your next meal. You will notice that your weight slowly decreases until your next meal.
This is because your body expends calories and loses water through sweat, breathing, and urination. The longer the time period, the more weight you lose, but only within the bounds of energy balance over time.
Hunger Can Disrupt Sleep
Sleep is important for weight loss. Studies show that getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night can negatively affect body composition.
Going to bed hungry can cause stomach pains that keep you from falling asleep. When you stop eating early in the evening you increase the chance that hunger will strike in the middle of night. This is probably one of the worst feelings to have to deal with.
For Those Late Night Hunger Pangs That Won’t Go Away
The solution: Reach for one of these sleep-inducing snacks that won’t have you wake up feeling bloated, suggests nutritionist Jane Delaney.
1. A bowl of cereal
Put down the Coco Pops – all that sugar might leave you too wired to sleep (and also give you a stomach ache). We’re talking about the whole-grain, complex carb kind (think oatmeal or corn or bran flakes) that’s easy to digest and gives you less kJs per bowl, says Brill. Pour in a little milk for extra tryptophan and protein.
2. Greek yoghurt
For about 600 calories, you get the relaxing powers of tryptophan from the dairy, as well as satisfying protein, says Brill. Plus, yogurt can help calm your stomach, so you’re less likely to wake up with heartburn or indigestion and instead can score a good night’s rest.
3. Baby carrots
Super-nutritious with lots of crunch, these little orange guys will fill you up long enough so you doze off, says Delaney.
4. A banana
Not only are bananas loaded with satiating fibre and relaxing tryptophan, but they’re the perfect late-night nosh if you’ve already cleaned up your kitchen. You won’t leave behind any dishes or utensils to wash!
5. An apple with a spoonful of peanut butter
Apples have lots of fibre and a satisfying crunch. “The protein in the peanut or almond butter also fills you up without feeling heavy in your stomach,” says Delaney.
6. Two slices of turkey
Turkey is loaded with sleep-inducing tryptophan (no wonder you’re so sleepy after those massive Christmas dinners, right?) and low-fat, high-quality protein, says Delaney. A few slices won’t run you more than 400 calories.