Why people gain weight is complicated, clearly not as simple as calories in and calories out. According to a USDA survey, overweight adults tend to eat significantly more calories at dinnertime and after dinner than normal weight adults, leading to speculation late night eating has a bad impact on our waistlines.
We have an internal clock called the circadian rhythm which aligns with daylight and darkness. Some research suggests our circadian rhythm influences energy use, and better meal timing can have a large impact on weight management.
For decades researches have seen increased rates of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease in shift workers. Factors such as poor diet and lack of exercise could be to blame, however shift workers often have lower levels of hormones that regulate appetite. Disrupting the sleep-wake cycle is detrimental to health and adequate sleep of at least 7 hours has been associated with better health.
In animal studies, mice fed a high fat diet during the night gained 48% more weight than mice eating the same calories with the same activity level during the day. Fasting overnight, such as from 8pm to 8am, also had a beneficial impact on blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
All too often American’s eat too light during the day and take in nearly half of their calories at night. Not eating out of hunger but from stress, emotions, or boredom is what gets us in trouble. Rarely do we reach for baby carrots when stressed or depressed, it is typically high-calorie, high-fat foods such as ice cream, cookies, chips, and pretzels.
Snacking on high-calorie, high-fat foods can also make for a restless sleep impacting secretions of appetite regulating hormones, make us not hungry for breakfast, and increase our blood sugar levels for up to 24 hours according to a study published in Obesity of Research & Clinical Practice.
For weight management target an appropriate number of calories daily (see your nutritionist for your calorie goal), spread your calories evenly throughout the day, avoid eating after 8pm, and if you must eat late limit after dinner snacks to 200 calories or less.
Healthy After Dinner Snacks Under 200 Calories
· 6 ounces nonfat plain Greek yogurt with 1/2 cup berries
· 1 cup baby carrots with 3 tablespoons hummus
· 1 apple with 1 laughing cow cheese wedge
· 2 rice cakes with 1 tablespoon peanut butter
· 1 cup low sugar cereal with skim milk
· 1 cup fresh strawberries topped with 2 tablespoons whipped cream
· 3 cups healthy popcorn
Tips to Avoid Late Night Eating
· Prevent boredom snacking by keeping your evenings entertaining. Try exercising, a new hobby, reading a book, or playing games with the family.
· Stop the habit of eating in front of the TV. Set a rule to only eat in the kitchen without distractions.
· Try drinking hot decaf tea at night to keep your hands occupied without the calories of snacks.
· Eat a well-balanced high-fiber dinner. If you have been avoiding carbohydrates only to binge on chips, pretzels, or sweets late at night you should try adding a healthy carbohydrate to dinner such as a baked sweet potato.
· Keep junk food out of sight and out of the house.
· Target a well-balanced high-fiber lunch and mid-afternoon snack to help avoid overeating at dinner.
· Stop skipping breakfast. People who skip breakfast often eat more calories by the end of the day.