Alright, we’ve gotta talk about it. That thing you do, late at night, by yourself, in the dark… Don’t be ashamed, eating late at night happens to the best of us.
Whether you eat a full meal or just a little snack, chowing down late at night can have some weird side effects on your health. For one, eating late at night throws off your body’s natural rhythms. You probably know that annoying feeling of being uncomfortably full and not being able to fall asleep, but your circadian rhythms and many other hormones in your body are affected by the calories you ingest. Basically, the later you eat, the less your body is prepared to sleep, which can wreck your memory and efficiency for the next day.
In fact, eating late at night may actually make you hungrier in the 24 hours following your evening eats. The hormone ghrelin, which controls how hungry you feel, uses the naturally occurring fast that happens from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. the next day to reset itself. If you don’t give your body enough time to fast, then that biological pathway can’t occur.
So you’ll feel way more hungry if you eat late at night, but even worse your metabolism will slow down. Studies show that the later you dine, the more calories you’re likely to eat, and the less sleep you’ll get. Less sleep equals a slower metabolism, and that means weight gain.
Finally, eating late at night can cause acid reflux. Your stomach takes a few hours to empty out after a big meal, but if you hit the sack and get horizontal right after you eat acid from your stomach can leak upwards into your esophagus.
So you know the nitty gritty of why you shouldn’t eat late at night, but let’s examine why you feel that need to rip open a bag of chips with your teeth long after the sun has gone down.
You’re not eating enough during the day
It might seem blatantly obvious, but if you’re hungry late at night, it's possible you aren’t eating enough during the day. Try eating a bigger lunchtime meal and a lighter dinner to ensure that you’ve fully digested your food, and integrate more fiber into your last meal of the day to stay more full for longer.
Your blood sugar is going berserk
If your blood sugar levels are constantly shooting through the roof and abruptly crashing, your food cravings will feel more intense—and your willpower will go out the window. Processed foods and anything with sugar tend to be higher on the glycemic index and can cause blood sugar spikes. Try cutting the added sugar out of your diet for a few days and you’ll notice your evening food cravings disappear.
Cortisol and stress are causing you to snack
Maybe you’re not even hungry, but every weeknight you find yourself gravitating to the freezer for your nightly pint of ice cream. If you’ve been stressed and anxious for the entire workday, the stress hormone cortisol will be elevated. Cortisol increases your appetite for sugar and fat, hence the late night ice cream or cheese cravings. Combat stress eating by unwinding earlier in the evening: a detoxifying epsom salt bath will help your muscles relax, meditating and deep breathing can lower your blood pressure levels, and a little melatonin can help your body naturally prepare for bed and make it easier to fall asleep.
If you're constantly battling the midnight munchies, it might be time to get serious about cutting out the habit. You may go to bed hungry for a few nights, but eventually your cravings will subside and your body will find its normal, natural rhythm, sans ice cream!
Photo credit: Alex Munsell via Unsplash