Weight Loss Tips for Midnight Snackers
If you’re looking to lose weight, eating at night will impede your progress. Midnight snacking has been shown to have a negative impact on both your health and body composition.
Limiting or avoiding food at nighttime is both a weight loss strategy, as well as an approach to improving your overall health. Nighttime eating has been linked to excess calorie intake, obesity, diabetes, and cardiometabolic diseases.
In this article, we’ll look at the reasons why professionals discourage midnight snacking and tips on how you can fight the cravings.
Why Midnight Snacks can be Bad
The idea that eating at night causes weight gain started when researchers noticed that the body may use consumed calories differently depending on the time of day. According to our natural circadian rhythm, nighttime is for resting…not eating.
Other reasons to avoid late-night snacking include variations in glucose tolerance, gastric emptying, resting energy expenditure, and these:
In a recent study, researchers looked at the relationship between the meal timing and calorie intake of 59 people. They discovered that individuals that ate closer to their bedtime consumed more calories overall than those who ate their last meal earlier. These extra calories almost always lead to weight gain over time.
Another independent study found that people who ate between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. consumed roughly 500 more calories per day than those who limited their intake to daytime hours. Over time, the average nighttime eater gained 10 more pounds.
A study in free-living, healthy adults has demonstrated that meal satiety varies with the time of day. It has been shown that food intake during the night is less satiating and leads to greater caloric intake compared to meals consumed during the morning.
Various studies of night shift workers have proven they have a higher prevalence of being overweight, abdominal obesity, impaired glucose tolerance, decreased kidney function, elevated triglycerides, and dyslipidemia.
Midnight snacking causes reductions in both the thermic effect of dinner and the total daily energy expenditure. This can contribute to weight gain and impaired health. Consuming the majority of your nutrients at night can increase your susceptibility to obesity and other cardiometabolic diseases.
If you find yourself with the insatiable urge to snack at night, here are some tips to change your behavior and continue on your weight loss journey:
Tip #1) Consider the Source
Humans are dynamic creatures and there are many reasons behind why we behave the way we do. The compulsion to eat late at night can be caused by lots of factors. Since you didn’t start out as a midnight snacker, think back to when it first started happening. Was it a specific event or emotion?
Nighttime eating can also be a result of an overly restricted diet during the day, which can lead to hunger pains at night. Habit or boredom are also common reasons people snack at night.
Snacking late at night has been linked to eating disorders including binge eating, food addiction, and night eating syndrome. People often use food to curb emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration. Food-related disorders are also associated with depression and sleeplessness.
Tip #2) Know Your Triggers
Just like any other uncontrollable urge, it’s critical to know when and what will trigger you to snack at night. Look for a set of events or patterns that set off your eating behaviors during the evening. Follow it to the source.
If you’re not hungry but find yourself with a fork in hand, carefully consider exactly what led up to
that. Were you happy or sad? Did a major event just occur? Did you receive news on something? You will often find you are using food to meet a need and not hunger.
Eating too much at night can also lead to a lack of appetite during the day. One way to curb your midnight snacking is to keep a food journal and make sure you have entries at all times during the day. You should also consider tracking your emotions and exercise so it’s easier to identify patterns.
Tip #3) Plan Your Routine
In order to take control of midnight snacking, you’ll need a little organization.
Set Small Goals
Set a series of small goals that will help to improve your sleep and get you to an elevated state of rest. For example, if you normally go to bed at 1 a.m., try to get to sleep at 11 p.m. each night; prior to your prime snack time.
After you accomplish this objective, set another small goal, like turning the TV off 30 minutes before bedtime. All of these steps will add up to the ultimate goal of sufficient sleep. This will reset your clock and prevent late-night eating.
Establishing set times for sleeping and eating can help to separate the two activities, especially for those prone to snacking at night.
Create a Meal Plan
A 2013 study looked at the relationship between food and impulsivity. It found that the mere sight of food acts as a trigger for the body’s reward responses. Creating a routine involves planning meals to reduce the chances of eating impulsively and making poor choices.
Meal plans alleviate the anxiety about how much you are eating. It spreads out your food throughout the day, keeping hunger at bay.
Tip #4) Seek Support
In some cases, eating at night can be treated with therapy. It may be that you have an underlying condition and professional help is the answer.
A therapist can help you to identify triggers and implement a treatment plan that gives you structure. These plans often include a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, also referred to as CBT.
In a controlled study, researchers compared the rapid-response and long-term impact of using three different therapeutic treatment methods, including CBT, in treating 205 people with confirmed eating disorders. Results showed the best outcomes, both short–term (rapid response) and long–term (remission), resulted from CBT.
Tip #5) Reset Your Schedule
Your metabolism is the highest in the morning and the lowest at night. Late-night snacking may throw your appropriate calorie counts out of whack. Since most people aren’t hungry in the morning (due to midnight snacking), you end up not eating when your body is set for the best workouts.
Try to eat a full, high-calorie breakfast. That’s right. A recent study compared people that ate a 600-calorie breakfast vs. a 300-calorie breakfast and found that those eating breakfast with a
higher caloric intake were less hungry throughout the day and had less of a craving for sweets at night.
Calorie levels distributed throughout the day will give you a better chance of staving off latenight snacking. Eating at planned intervals will also keep your blood sugar stable and prevent you from feeling irritable, famished, or tired.
Changing the timing and frequency of your meals may be a prime strategy to reduce your overall calorie intake and effectively manage hunger.
Tip #6) Include Healthy Foods
Different foods will have different effects on your appetite. That’s why, while losing weight, it’s important to include protein in every meal. The amount of protein intake you need depends on a variety of factors like your age, activity level, muscle mass, and overall health.
Protein will keep you more satisfied throughout the day and less prone to overeating at night. In a 2011 study, researchers looked at consuming a high-protein (HP) diet vs. a normal-protein (NP) diet and the frequency of meals. The survey involved 47 men who were overweight or obese. Results found that eating high–protein meals reduced cravings by 60% and cut the desire for late-night snacking by half.
Fill your home with nutrient-rich foods so high-sugar and high-fat items are not available. Snackfriendly items like fruits, nuts, and yogurt are a good start.
Tip #7) Destress and Distract
Stress and anxiety are two of the most common reasons why people eat when they’re not hungry. However, using food to curb emotions tends to be a temporary solution.
If you notice you are eating when stressed, try to find another way to relax like reading, taking a bath, doing yoga, or watching a movie. The more you distract yourself, the less likely you are to overeat.
The Future of Late Night Food
Newer studies have shown that you don’t have to avoid eating all foods completely at night. In fact, small snacks at night can lead to decreases in fat oxidation, optimized performance, and increased overall health. If you simply must munch on a midnight snack, choose something with the following characteristics:
- Small portion
- Single macronutrients
- Under 200 calories
Small snacks at night can jumpstart your metabolism as long as they are rich in nutrients.
The Bottom Line
Snacking late at night is generally not a good habit. Although physiologically, calories don’t count more at night, the way your body works is different. The longer you are awake, the slower your body processes calories, especially fat.
If you find yourself with an insatiable midnight appetite, you can try things like:
- Studying the source
- Understanding your triggers
- Planning your meals and snacks
- Seeking professional help
- Resetting your food schedule
- Making healthier food choices
Distraction is also a tried and true solution to curb late-night eating. A long walk at night or a fun activity will help you reset your rhythm and be better positioned for weight loss success.