EATING AT NIGHT CAUSES WEIGHT GAIN
I’m sure you’ve heard this one before: “No eating after 7 p.m.” It’s been touted by diet gurus tons of times as a sure-fire way to help you lose weight. Unfortunately, it’s WRONG! When you eat is not nearly as important as What you eat and How much you eat. As long as you don’t take in more calories than you burn in a day, eating at 10 o’clock at nigh will not make you gain weight.
Before you take this as a license to “run for the border”, you first have to figure out why you’re eating late at night.
PHYSICAL OR EMOTIONAL
When you open the fridge for that after-dinner nosh, ask yourself, “Why am I eating?” If you are physically hungry – growling stomach, low-blood sugar, irritable, or it has been at least 3 hours since your last meal – then you are probably hungry and should eat a snack of some fast-acting carbs (fruit) and some lean protein. On the other hand, if you’re stressed, sad, angry, bored, or pissed off, then the bee-line to the cookie jar is because you are emotionally hungry. In this case, eating something will not make you feel better. During these times, it’s easy to make poor food choices and over-consume those foods, leaving you even more angry, stressed, sad, or pissed off, only this time at yourself.
Another reason you might be eating a lot at night is because you under-ate during the day. When you do not consume enough fuel during the day, your body thinks it’s starving, so it prompts you with physical hunger cues to make up for this deficit. That’s why you come home from a long day at work, plop down on the couch and realize, “Wow, am I hungry!” Quite often when we are so busy during the day – meeting deadlines, running the kids around, cleaning the house, going to school – signals for hunger are blunted as our stress hormones keep us focused on completing the task at hand. Only when those tasks are complete do the hormones shift – stress hormones go down and hunger cues go up.
IT’S OK TO EAT AT NIGHT
If you listen to your body and feed it every few hours when it gets hungry, then it’s only normal to need a little something at night. Let’s say your day looks like this: Breakfast at 6:30 a.m., Mid-morning snack at 9:30 a.m., Lunch at 12:30 p.m., Afternoon snack at 3:30 p.m (probably the most important snack of the day, so make it a good one!)., Dinner at 6:00 p.m., Snack at 8:30 p.m. Six mini-meals, evenly spaced throughout the day will provide you with adequate fuel, keep your energy level high, maintain an even blood sugar level, and keep those emotional food cravings away. With this kind of schedule, your body never thinks it’s starving so it uses the clean food that you give it as fuel rather than store it as fat.
A special note to those people who workout in the evening: you absolutely musteat after you exercise. Eating a well-balanced meal encourages recovery, no matter how late it is. If you don’t eat after you’re done, your body will not be able to replace the glycogen in your liver and muscles that you used to fuel your gym-session. Try eating within 30 minutes of finishing to maximize glycogen resynthesis. The easiest meal at a late hour is 1 cup whole-grain cereal, 1 piece fruit, and 1 cup nonfat milk or Greek yogurt – no cooking and very little clean-up.
Now that you have a better idea about why you eat and what and how much you should eat, don’t sabotage yourself by having “trigger foods” around. A “trigger food” is one in which “an open bag is an empty bag.” Whether it be cheese and crackers, ice cream, cookies, pretzles, chips and dip – whatever your particular “trigger foods” are, do not keep them in the house. This only sets you up for failure because in a weak moment, if it’s there to comfort you, then you will eat it. Out of sight is out of mind. Say “bye-bye” to Ben & Jerry!