Late Night Snacking – It’s Not Only What You Eat, It’s WHEN You Eat


Once in a while, I’ll run across an article that really strikes a chord.

A few weeks back, that very thing happened. I was actually sitting and reading a magazine (which these days is pretty rare) and this piece leapt out at me. So much so, I immediately shared the article with friends and we were all like…well, DUH.

The article was from Health Magazine, and was about eating at night. Okay, not just about eating at night, but also how late night snacking is not only a way to pack on pounds, it also messes up your system. Your body’s circadian rhythm.

Think about it: before the invention of electric light, humans got up with the sun and went to bed pretty soon after the sun set. Late night snacking, or even a late dinner, was not the norm.

Now, we have artificial light. We get home from work after dark, eat a few hours later, we sit in front of the television or computer, and, if you’re like me, you snack. Sometimes, it’s a healthy snack. Sometimes, not so much. But there’s rarely a night I DON’T have a little something before bed.

This article, entitled Can You Eat Late and Still Lose Weight, focused heavily on the twelve hour fast. You see, our bodies have an internal clock and expect a twelve hour nightly fast (thus the work breakfast – BREAK the FAST). Your body NEEDS a break at night.

According to Health:

During the day, your brain and muscles use some of the calories you eat for fuel, and the rest gets stored in the liver in the form of glycogen. At night, your body converts that glycogen into glucose and releases it into your bloodstream to keep your blood-sugar levels steady while you sleep. Once the stored glycogen is gone, your liver starts burning fat cells for energy. Yes, you read that right—you burn fat while you sleep.
Seriously. This makes complete sense to me. Not only the part about giving my body time to use up what I’ve eaten during the day, but also – hello? The later I stay up, the more I take in – and the worse my food choices become.  Most of my ice cream binges are between the hours of 9pm and 11 pm.
After this eye opener, I decided to make an effort to not eat after dinner. Some of my strategies?
  • Hot tea or a big glass of water. More calories free liquid is never a bad thing, and it helps me feel full.
  • Put all the food away immediately after dinner, clean up and turn the kitchen light off. And leave. No more fridge fly-bys.
  • Go to bed earlier – which is something I need to do anyway. God knows I’m sleep deprived.

The results have been positive. Not only have I been MUCH more successful at counting calories, I feel like my body is working better. I’m finding running easier and I have more energy.

And yes, I’ve lost some pounds.

All good things.

Late night snacking is still a struggle for me, but it’s getting easier – and on the nights it’s not easy, I remind myself of  how much better I’ve been feeling.

So – are you a late night snacker? Sound off in the comments!

Photo courtesy of neilpomerleau via Flickr

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  • Karena @ Traveling Well

    Oh my word, can I relate! Night time snacking is my achilles’ heel! This is something I keep planning to do, but old habits die SO hard. Great tip on the tea – I need to start that as my new evening habit!

  • Greg Kuhn

    Thanks for this post, Heather.  Eating late is definitely more about soothing my feelings than hunger for me.  Quantum physics tells us that our feelings about what we do will trump the action itself (because material reality is subjective and responds to our expectations).  It’s pretty difficult for me (or most people) to actually feel good about eating late – especially the types of food I gravitate toward when I do it, i.e. “junk” food that isn’t usually a loving thing for me to do to my body.

  • anng

    Lately I’ve been an anytime snacker. I’m working on it but still have a long way to improve.

  • Shannon K.

    To throw a wrench in the article… people work at night. Myself included. So the whole “don’t eat at night” is great for most people but for us night shifters.. it is essential. To make things even more complicated, i work 3 days a week one week and 4 day the next. So half of my week I eat in the afternoon/evening and the other is normal like everyone else. When I started working towards weight loss I was worried about this so I spoke with a trainer. he advised me the night time was my “day” time on the days that I work. And not eat within an hour of going to bed.  I have actually been very successful in my weight loss. I think what you said was important… the later it gets, the poorer your choices get. That hit it on the head. The more tired you are (or hungry!), the worse your choices will be. Being aware, making good choices and getting plenty of rest is essential.

  • Carla

    Totally with you on this! Nighttime snacking is my downfall. It’s a pretty ingrained habit. I find I’ve trained myself o start grazing when I sit down in front of the TV. Emphasis on he sitting.