Since I started this blog in January, I have been focused on trying to solve the mystery of why 95% of people who have lost weight, including myself, have gained it back over the next 2 years. I do not claim to have all the answers but I can share with you the some if things I know I did wrong in the past and that I am determined not to repeat this time. The first in this series on unhealthy habits is late night snacking. I cannot tell you how many nights I stayed up late catching up my electronic medical charts nibbling on large quantities of Skinny Pop or baked gluten free chips. Even something as “healthy” as skinny pop eaten right before going to bed can be hazardous your quest for good health.
Effects of Eating at Bedtime
The 24/7 availability of food in this country has created an unhealthy mindset toward food. We no longer eat to fuel our bodies, we often eat out of habit or just for fun. Aside from derailing your attempts to maintain a healthy weight, late night eating can lead to multiple other health problems.
1. Trouble sleeping. Eating late at night can keep you awake as your body tries to digest the food. This can make it not only difficult to fall asleep but to stay asleep as well. We established in an earlier blog that poor sleep causes imbalances in your hunger and fullness hormones which can lead to weight gain.
2. Acid reflux and heartburn are more common in late night eaters. Acid reflux can become severe causing inflammation in the esophagus as well as significant pain. This can lead to long term complications such as ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding.
3. Pre-diabetes and diabetes are worsened by late night eating, especially when eating simple carbs. Those foods cause a sharp rise in insulin which drives down your blood sugar making you hungry for more. We have all experienced this after eating a simple carbohydrate packed meal of Chinese food. Insulin is a fat storage hormone and that encourages your body to store fat.
4. Late night eating makes you hungrier the next morning which could trigger you to overeat at breakfast. I noticed years ago that if I go to bed full I will invariably wake up stomach growling hungry. This is because late night eating triggers the release of the hormone ghrelin which is responsible for triggering hunger after an overnight fast. Late night eating shortens the normal overnight fast that allows the ghrelin to rise as slowly as it should while we are asleep.
Breaking the Habit
It might not be as easy as you think to break the habit of late night eating. It definitely takes time, especially if you have been doing it for many years as I had. Here are a few of the strategies that have helped me.
1. Vow not to eat within 3-4 hours of bedtime. Figure out what time you need to go to bed in order to get 7-8 hours of sleep and close your kitchen 3-4 hours before that time. If this sounds suspiciously like intermittent fasting, I will address that in a future blog.
2. After your evening meal take a walk or do some other form of physical activity to promote digestion. I would not recommend anything too vigorous that might keep you awake. Yoga, pilates or a simple stretching routine work just fine. Take breaks from the tv or computer to do a household chore or two (not in the kitchen).
3. Purge your kitchen of your favorite late night foods. (See the blog on taking the junk food challenge). If junk food is not readily available, you are less likely to eat it. Healthy eating decisions start in the grocery store. If you don’t have it in your house, you can’t eat it.
4. Make it a habit to eat a satisfying dinner that will keep you from getting hungry later. When tempted to go foraging for a snack, stop and ask yourself if you are truly hungry. Listen to your stomach and not your head when it comes to eating.
5. Brush your teeth right after dinner to symbolize the end of your eating day. If the urge to eat is still strong, try sugar free gum or strong mints to squelch that urge.
6. If all else fails, go to bed a little earlier if it will keep you out of the kitchen.
The strategies to avoid late night eating that have worked for me might not work for you so try to find tricks that work for you! We are all in this struggle together to find our healthiest selves.
“Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” 3 John 1:2 (NLT)