Eating before bed: yes or no?
When it comes to big nutrition questions, here’s one that’s been up for debate: is it OK to eat late at night?
Registered Dietitian Mandy Enright, author of: 30-Minute Weight Loss Cookbook, says there is a lot of misinformation in the media about when to eat, particularly around meal time.
In reality, the impact of nighttime meals can depend on several factors. “The truth is that what and how much you eat is just as — and often more important than… when you eat,” she says.
To clarify this perplexing topic, we talked to several registered dietitians to get their opinion. Here’s what you need to know about eating before bed.
Dinner and weight gain
A risk of packing on the pounds is usually the main reason people think it’s bad to eat late at night, says Jennifer Fiske, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Dallas, Texas.
“The most commonly cited reason I hear is weight gain,” she says. “Eating late is often associated with a lack of self-control and eating ‘junk’ food.”
Images of people watching TV eating chips and ice cream accompany catchy headlines and stick in people’s minds. However, it is not that simple.
“Many of my clients don’t look beyond the headlines to analyze what is true or false. They just take ‘don’t eat late or else’ at face value.”
Other dieticians say customers think elevated cholesterol and even poor insulin control are automatic side effects of eating late at night.
“It’s like the weight-gain fairy somehow visits us after 6pm, waves her wand and poof!” says Amanda Liptak, a registered dietitian nutritionist and mindset coach in Cleveland, Ohio.
Have views on nighttime eating changed over time?
Until recently, many people — experts included — thought weight management was as simple as calories in, calories out.
But that thinking has evolved as more and more evidence emerges about the effects of hormones, stress, genetics and more on weight.
“Over the past five years, a new research term known as chrono-nutrition has emerged, looking at how the timing of meals affects weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol,” says registered dietitian Lisa Andrews, MEd, owner of Sound Bites Nutrition in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Now the thinking is that manipulating the time when food is consumed can affect both blood sugar and body weight,” Andrews says.
“Limiting the time when food is available may offset the metabolic consequences of chronic disease.”
Friske adds that intermittent fasting and eating windows are more popular. Note that much of this research is still preliminary.
(These are the best foods to eat any time of the day.)
What does the research say?
Eating before bed may be fine — and a good idea for some people — but it also depends on your daytime eating habits, what you eat, and your own personal calorie needs.
Fiske puts it best: “As with many aspects of nutrition, I see research supporting multiple conclusions about eating before bed.” This is why the question, “Is eating before bed bad?” is So confusing.
One thought is that while eating dinner doesn’t necessarily lead to weight gain, its effect on weight depends on the distribution of the rest of your daily calories.
This means that if you’ve “saved” 200 calories for a late-night snack, all could be well. But eating an extra 200 calories night after night can lead to some pretty significant weight gain over time.
In addition, some research suggests that eating dinner in the evening makes you less likely to eat breakfast — and skipping breakfast can lead to you becoming overly hungry and overeating later in the day.
In research in the Diary of Obesity, nearly 20,000 Japanese women who ate late dinners or snacks before bed were more likely to skip breakfast.
“A late dinner or snack before bed was associated with a greater chance of being overweight or obese,” Enright says.
Research also links sugary nighttime eating with an increased risk of cavities. This really comes as no surprise given that the advice has long been not to give babies juice before bed for a similar risk, or let them sleep with a bottle in their mouth.
A small study from 2017 in Community Dental Health on 128 preteen girls who ate sugary snacks before bed found they had an increased risk of dental cavities.
What has changed: how we look at nighttime eating for athletes.
“They have greater nutritional needs, so eating before bed can support recovery and ensure adequate intake,” says Fiske.
“This concept has been a household name in the field of sports nutrition for quite some time. In recent years, however, it has gained mainstream popularity.”
This is especially true if someone has finished an intense workout in the evening.
Is there a definitive answer?
There is still – and probably always will be – chatter about pluses and minuses about eating before bed.
If you want to have more of your total daily calories during the day, maybe skip a nighttime snack. However, if you really enjoy the routine of a small snack after watching your late-night TV episode, you can make that work too.
Make sure you are aware of the food in the evening, which means that you are not multitasking while eating and that you know if you are really hungry or just feel like snacking.
If you’re not really hungry, you might want to grab something lighter, but that’ll still give you the texture you crave – baby carrots, for example, can be satisfying if you’re craving something crunchy.
Normally, people want to enjoy their evenings and rest, Liptak says.
“This is where things start to unravel, and people generally become less attuned to their hunger signals,” Liptak says.
“This makes eating a bag of chips in front of the TV or sipping a glass of wine around the fire pit a great way to pass the time, even if your body is ‘enough!’ said”
Who benefits most from nighttime snacks?
Also, some people actually to do need a late night snack.
“Often there are clear indications that a person can benefit from a late night snack,” explains Liptak.
“People with diabetes, those with low blood sugar, or those who wake up in the middle of the night from spikes in cortisol often benefit greatly from an evening snack,” Liptak says.
“The key is to consciously choose a nutritious snack for this purpose and make sure it is rich in protein to help control and satisfy blood sugar levels.”
Nursing mothers may also benefit from a bedtime snack. “Nursing takes extra energy, so keeping snacks on hand is an asset,” says Fiske.
If you do reach for a snack, don’t forget the hormones melatonin and serotonin, which support a good night’s sleep.
“A small snack of a protein — such as milk, yogurt, chickpeas, or turkey rolls — combined with a carbohydrate such as fruit, whole-wheat bread, or cereal can help produce the sleep hormones serotonin and melatonin for a more restful and deep sleep. ”, says Enright.
Can Eating Before Bed Affect Weight?
Researchers from Ulster University in Northern Ireland presented a study at the 2020 European and International Congress on Obesity. Their findings: Late-night eaters had lower-quality diets and weighed more than those who ate earlier.
“Findings clearly showed that the quality of food choices differed in people who ate earlier in the day than late at night,” Liptak says. “This highlights what we’ve known for a while: Weight gain is influenced more by a person’s habits and lifestyle than by meal timing.”
And as with weight management in general, it’s important to eat mindfully throughout the day and pay attention to hunger signals.
“This means eating balanced meals throughout the day, not waiting too long to eat, and not saving calories for later when you eat out,” Liptak says.
“All of these things prevent you from overeating at night by regulating your blood sugar and controlling food cravings.”
(Here’s how to stop stress eating at night.)
Can Eating Before Bed Affect Your Sleep?
The short answer: Yes.
“Eating before bed can affect sleep if someone eats right before bedtime,” says Fiske.
“I encourage clients to separate their last meal or snack and bedtime by about an hour to allow for digestion. However, some people do not experience sleep disruption from eating before bedtime, as this is very individual.
Ultimately, research supports the fact that the what you eat before going to bed that really has an effect.
“A diet low in fiber and high in sugar and fat before bed can result in poorer sleep,” Andrews says. “A small study found that this type of diet was linked to less restorative sleep.”
Also, eating a late night meal may increase the risk of reflux, especially for people with diabetes, according to research in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes. Having reflux can make it harder to get a good night’s sleep.
So when should people stop eating at night?
“I usually recommend at least an hour between the last meal or snack and bedtime,” says Fiske.
Nightly snacks to consider
like you to be going to eat before bedtime, there are better foods to consider. Here are some ideas:
Next, check out the foods that will help you sleep better.