It’s 10:00 at night. The kids are asleep. The dishes are done and you’ve tidied up the place. Finally, you have some precious “you” time. So you plop down on the couch and turn on the tv. This one hour a day is what you live for; this fleeting moment, unwinding with your favorite program… it makes all the stress of the day seem tolerable. And what will really add to the stress-busting experience, your brain signals, is a late-night snack (and perhaps a glass of wine).
A mere couple hours ago, despite having eaten a satiating, healthy, balanced dinner (a moderate portion of lean protein, healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, and lots of low-starch veggies with Miracle Noodles instead of high-carb pasta), you open the pantry and fridge.
But before you reach for that bag of popcorn, consider this warning: Recent research reveals that it’s not just what you eat that’s important, it’s also when you eat. And what the research shows is that eating anything at night, even if it’s low-carb, keto-friendly or Paleo-friendly, can sabotage your weight loss goals.
The Proof is in the Late-Night Pudding
Eating late at night, says a study published in the journal, Obesity, has been identified as a risk factor for metabolic syndrome and obesity. What the study showed was that consuming calories after 8 in the evening was correlated with having a higher BMI (body mass index).
A study from Japan of nearly 5,000 people in their 30s showed that the odds of developing metabolic syndrome were approximately twice as high in women who had dinner immediately before bed than in those who did not. In another study of 239 US adults, people who ate more than 33% of their calories in the evening had twice the risk of being obese.
And in another study from Japan, involving 8,000 adults, the researchers concluded that those who ate dinner immediately before bed or snacks after dinner had higher BMIs. Men who ate dinner and snack late at night had higher odds of abnormally-elevated cholesterol levels, in comparison to Japanese adults who did not eat dinner late at night or consumed late-night snacks. As for the women in the study, those with both habits had higher odds of metabolic syndrome and abdominal obesity when compared to those with neither habit.
“Individuals should refrain from both night eating habits to reduce the risk of developing complications associated with metabolic syndrome,” said the researchers.
Perhaps these studies don’t apply to you? After all, you’re on the keto diet and doing intermittent fasting. It doesn’t matter if you have half an avocado, olives, a handful of walnuts and a slice of organic sliced turkey. These foods have a negligible impact on your blood sugar levels. And because you’re doing intermittent fasting, you won’t consume anything with calories until after noon the next day. No big deal to do some late-night zero-glycemic-load snacking, you assume.
But as we learned in these tips to overcome a weight loss plateau, the first study of early time-restricted feeding (in prediabetic men) suggests that having your last meal earlier in the day improves insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, oxidative stress, and appetite.
Tips to Avoid Late-Night Snacking
The bottom line is that when you eat late at night, no matter what it is, be it popcorn and chips, or even seemingly healthy snacks, the food tends to get stored as body fat. Now obviously, it’s better to eat a piece of fruit late at night instead of a candy bar. But if you want to get leaner, then try not to eat anything late at night.
The longview strategy for weight management is burning your stored body fat. Going several hours (5-6) in between your daytime meals, avoiding snacking, and fasting for at least 14-16 hours in between dinner and breakfast are 3 great ways to burn your stored body fat for energy.
But what should you do when your brain tells you that you’re hungry late at night? It’s going to happen from time to time.
Distinguish between true hunger (starvation) and habit.
If you get a hankering for a hunk-a-cheese or a midnight sugary snack, ask yourself this: “Am I really hungry or is it just my brain talking?”
True hunger is starvation. You’re really not hungry, your body is just accustomed to eating something late at night. When you feel a craving for a late-night snack, drink a tall glass of water; add some lemon juice to make the water more pleasing to the palette. Often, after drinking a glass of water, you’ll find that your hunger goes away. You can also have a glass of herbal tea (without the honey).
It’s just the yeast talking...
If your diet includes a lot of added sugars, the signal from your brain to eat late at night could be the result of yeast in your gut. The brain and gut, which acts like a second brain, operate on a continuous feedback loop. If you have an overgrowth of certain yeast such as candida albicans, it could be the yeast who are hungry and craving more carbs. That’s why people who eat a carbohydrate-rich dinner (pasta, bread, potatoes) are more likely to be tempted by late-night snacks. More carbs beget more carbs.
[Looking for an alternative to regular pasta? Try this.]
The most common way to know for sure whether you have an overgrowth of candida albicans is to get a blood test from your healthcare provider. If you do have invasive candida, you can take herbal antifungal supplements. When your candida levels return to normal, you will likely find that you’re not as tempted by late-night snacking.
Blame your mother!
Late-night snacking is often caused by psychological/emotional triggers. Let’s revisit your childhood to explore one example of how food can be used as a crutch to soothe our pain mentally and physically.
There’s a good chance that when you were younger, something bad happened. You skinned your knee, got teased by your schoolmates and forgot your lines during the school play. To make you feel better, your mom tried to make everything right by giving you some ice cream. Decades later, this experience has been subconsciously ingrained. So anytime you feel down whether you had a bad day at work or your self- image is low, mom is there subconsciously to make you feel better. Mom’s spirit whispers in your ear to reach for that tub of Ben & Jerry’s.
So what can you do to make yourself feel better instead of sabotaging your weight loss success? Try affirmation meditations. Find a quiet place to sit and repeat confidence-boosting phrases for a few minutes. (example: “My body is a fat-burning machine and the foods I eat contribute to my health and vitality.”)
Got any other late-night-snack-avoiding tips to share? Share below.