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The Truth About Eating At Night

Let me paint a picture for you and tell me if this sounds familiar. You had dinner at around 7:00 PM and now it’s 9:30 PM and you’re hungry again but you’re not sure what to eat. You don’t want to sabotage your weight loss but here’s the problem.

You’ll be up for another couple of hours and who wants to go to bed starving? Am I getting this right so far? I get tons of questions over night time eating and figured it would be helpful to separate fact from fiction. Is it true that if you eat past 7:00PM you’ll store body fat? Is it good to go to bed hungry? What are the best foods to eat at night? Here’s the deal.

Let’s start with the first question on whether or not you’ll store body fat if you eat past 7:00PM. I hear this one all the time. I hear Oprah always promoting this idea. I don’t know who brainwashed her on this but it’s simply not true.

Your body doesn’t magically start storing fat based on the time of the day you eat.

If that were true then everyone working third shift tonight down at the mill would be obese. Try to look at it this way. It’s energy in vs. energy out over a 24 hour period.

There is no cut off time when food is no longer used for energy but is automatically sent to the fat storage depot. The reality is everyone’s body is different (due to metabolism) and therefore energy requirements are different.

The secret is learning how your metabolism functions and eating accordingly.

I just had to laugh because as I’m writing this I thought about my father telling me “that’s too late to eat boy” when I’ve talking on the phone with him at nights. I couldn’t count how many times he’s told me that over the years.

With my schedule a lot of times I’ll be eating dinner at 8:00-8:30 PM during the week. It’s not what I would prefer to do for lifestyle purposes, but that’s just the way my schedule works and it doesn’t affect me one bit.

Somewhere, somehow it’s become ingrained in my father’s belief system that if you eat late you will gain weight. There’s no changing that belief now, no matter what I say.

I know that so I usually just say “yeah, I know…then I move on to the next subject.” Here’s what I don’t get into detail telling him.

I know that my body requires over 3400 calories just at rest! This is my resting metabolic rate which I found out by doing a metabolic profile test. My metabolism is very high plain and simple.

This is partly genetic and it’s partly because of my lean body mass. Anyway, the point is with that much energy expenditure from my metabolism I can eat later and it doesn’t have a negative effect on my body.

I don’t go to bed until 11:00PM and since I don’t eat big dinners this works for me.

The idea is that you want to give your body steady, consistent energy, in accordance to what your individual needs are.

Everyone is going to be different and that depends on your metabolism.

You can’t accurately see how fast or slow your metabolism is until you have it tested. My advice is to eat smaller dinners and try to always follow the hormonal stabilizing principals of removing starches (bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, etc) at dinner.

This works best for everyone regardless of their rate of metabolism.

The second question is….is it good to go to bed hungry?

The answer is yes and no. It’s never a good idea to go to bed really hungry. This is when you legitimately have very low blood sugar and you’re not just feeling hungry due to appetite. Hunger from low blood sugar and appetite are two entirely different things.

One is physiological and one is psychological. People who snack at nights often do so out of habit not because of true hunger. It’s important to know the difference.

The reason I don’t want you going to bed starving (with very low blood sugar) is because you’re getting ready to go on a 7-8 hour fast. You’re best served by having lower blood sugar levels as you get ready for bed but not “in the tank” levels.

Eating something light (key word light) an hour or two before bed can actually be beneficial if your body needs the energy to stabilize blood sugar levels. We’ll get into the best choices in a minute. Here’s my suggestion.

Let’s say it’s an hour or two after you’ve eaten dinner and you’re hungry but you’re also going to bed within the hour. Your best bet is to drink a large glass of water and call it a day.

If on the other hand you’ll be up for another couple of hours go ahead and eat something small.

Bottom line is I don’t want anything sitting in your stomach when you lay down to go to bed but I also don’t want you going to bed with extremely low blood sugar.

Listen to your body, learn the difference between appetite and hunger, and follow your metabolism.

Alright, the last question…”what are the best foods to eat at night?” Make no mistake about it; what you do eat if you eat at night does make a difference.

The hormonal balances in your body fluctuate with light patterns (called circadian rhythms) and this does affect things like insulin sensitivity. Now excess energy is still excess energy and will always be stored as fat but as a general rule you want to minimize carbohydrate consumption at night.

There are numerous reasons for this that I won’t bore you with now. Just know that if you eat a snack after dinner try to pick something that doesn’t contain carbohydrates. This means you want a protein and/or fat.

And oh, by the way, don’t even think that “sugar-free” snacks like pudding, popsicles, bars, etc will get my stamp of approval. They all use artificial sweeteners and although they don’t contain “sucrose” or table sugar there’s nothing beneficial about them.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking “I’m doing good because
I’m having a sugar-free pudding pop.”

Choose from the options below and you’ll be doing your body a much better favor.

Nuts (all varieties)
Seeds (all varieties)
Peanut butter
Avocado
Guacamole
Tuna Fish
Cottage Cheese
Deli-Meat
Cheese
Hard Boiled Egg
Protein Shake

Alright I know that list doesn’t include popcorn, ice cream and all the traditional favorites but I know you want the straight truth so I’m giving it to you like it is.

You can dress up the traditional snacks to make them look healthy by parading them around as being “sugar-free / fat-free” but at the end of the day this processed junk does not work with the natural hormonal functions of your body.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, author, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts Fitness Training Studios.

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Category: Fat Loss.