We all know by now that healthy eating habits are essential when it comes to maintaining or losing weight.
Of course, you cannot just stuff your face with chips, ice cream, candy, and chocolate and expect not to see any weight gain! Did you know that the timing of your snacks and meals can also affect your ability to shed some extra weight?
This seems especially true at night, when, admittedly, some of us like to enjoy some type of after-dinner or late night snack. So, how does this work? How does meal timing affect weight loss? And what time should you stop eating before bed to lose weight more effectively?
Keep reading for more helpful tips about meal timing and weight loss.
While the timing does vary a bit depending on what you have eaten, how much you have eaten, and what time you usually go to bed, rule of thumb is that you should stop eating between three and four hours before going to sleep. The primary reasoning behind this is that your stomach needs this time to empty, thereby allowing the food to make its way to the small intestines.
This is especially true for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD. People who suffer from GERD sometimes experience stomach fluids such as acid coming back up the esophagus and into the back of the throat. When lying down with a full stomach, this is more likely to happen as it is easier for the fluids to come back up through the esophagus.
Therefore, if people with GERD do not let their stomachs empty before bed, they will be more likely to experience these symptoms of acid reflux in addition to heartburn, difficulty swallowing, cough, and even insomnia.
There are a couple of different ways your weight can be affected by the foods you eat at night through mindless and unhealthy eating, and how our bodies break down nutrients.
Admit it. No one usually craves a salad before bed! We are more likely to choose unhealthy foods at night, like the type that tends to be loaded with sugar and salt. If we then pair this kind of food with doing mindless activities, like watching TV or scrolling through our phones, then we are not paying attention to our bodies’ normal fullness and hunger cues. This can then lead to overeating these unhealthy foods at night and lead to weight gain, even if it is unintentional.
In one study, researchers found that the time people ate affected how much fat they burned over the course of a day. Participants were divided into two groups: those who ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and those who skipped breakfast but had lunch, dinner, and an additional meal at about 10:00 p.m. The nutritional content was the same for the breakfast and late-night meals.
They found that skipping breakfast and having the 10:00 p.m. meal burned significantly less fat than the group that ate breakfast and had no late-night meals. The theory behind this is that the fat-burning process that typically occurs during sleep was delayed in the bodies of those who participated in nighttime eating, as their bodies were focused on first breaking down the carbohydrates from their snack instead.
Therefore, if you are looking to lose weight, your best bet is to stop any late-night snacking if you want to maximize your body’s ability to burn fat overnight. If you still find yourself hungry at night, you can always try to increase the amount you eat at breakfast. Research shows that food eaten around breakfast time seems to be the most satiating and can help you to consume less over the course of a day.
What if you do not want to give up that late-night snack, though? Are some food options better than others? Glad you asked!
Whatever the reasoning, some people just need to have a little something before bed. This is perfectly fine every so often, even when you are trying to lose weight. You just need to be mindful of how much you eat and what you eat – unfortunately, the junk food will have to go!
Next time the late-night craving strikes, try one of these as a bedtime snack:
If these snacks do not sound appealing to you, then generally try to stay away from processed food and those that are sugary, fatty, fried, spicy, acidic, or caffeinated, as these can all affect your weight and the quality of your sleep.
To help with portion control, make sure you have determined how much you are going to eat beforehand, and do not just eat straight out of a bag or box. If you are doing a mindless activity at the same time, then by laying out an appropriate portion size before eating you are less likely to accidentally overindulge.
If you can, it is a good idea to take the mindless activity completely out of the equation. This may mean separating your TV and phone time from your snack time, which for some people can certainly be a difficult link to break! Instead of looking at a screen, try and focus more on the food you are eating, like its taste, texture, and color.
Unfortunately, there is no clear answer as to exactly what time you should stop eating to avoid weight gain or lose weight. Based on the study discussed above regarding circadian rhythms, it is a good idea to at least stop all snacking before 10:00 p.m. to try and avoid the delay of fat burning in your body.