It’s finally time to bust a myth that we've been losing sleep over, tossing and turning in bed with a growling stomach, convinced that if we break the fast and eat, we will gain weight. The truth is, it does not matter what time of day you eat, but rather how much you eat and how much physical activity you do that determines your weight. So you may be wondering, is that it? Am I off the hook to go eat some chips and ice cream before bed? Not so fast! There are still many factors to keep in mind when picking a bedtime snack in order to stay healthy.
Start your nighttime snack checklist by looking back on the day and seeing whether or not you ate enough. You may have eaten substantial meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner with few snacks in between, hitting your calorie needs. Therefore, you’re less likely to need a bedtime snack, versus someone who ate little throughout the day and is in need of calories to satiate their hunger at night. Weight gain is often associated with consistent nighttime snacking for those eating out of boredom and consuming additional calories that their body does not necessarily need. Asking yourself the questions, “What did I eat today? Am I still hungry? Am I thirsty? Am I bored? Am I emotional?” can be the difference between mindless snacking, and eating to meet your daily nutritional needs.
Having too big of meals before bed may cause indigestion, heartburn, and interrupted sleeping patterns., Parts of your digestive system, specifically the stomach and other muscle contractions, may slow down during your sleep cycle as your body is trying to rest. Therefore, the process of digestion can take more time and effort than usual, and you may wake up mid-process, experiencing previously stated symptoms such as indigestion, heartburn, and beyond comfortable fullness that can keep you up at night. Additionally, foods high in calories, fat, sodium, and added sugar can result in previously mentioned weight gain, increased risk of poor blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol results, which can further influence the development of chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes.4,
Therefore, if you are actually hungry and choose to eat a snack, your next task on the checklist is to pick the right type of food and the correct amount of it. A healthy snack should be made up of nutrient-dense foods, meaning that the foods are high in nutrients but low in calories. Snacks should provide approximately one-half as many calories as a regular meal, usually averaging 200 calories. Meals should be high in protein and fiber, which will help stabilize your blood sugar and keep you full. Examples of registered dietitian-approved bedtime snacks include leftover vegetable or chicken soup, cottage cheese with fruit, oatmeal with nut butter, and toast topped with avocado, cheese, and/or veggies. If you’re still not feeling full, wait about 20 to 30 minutes before considering another snack. At times, your brain may take up to half an hour to signal the rest of your body whether or not it is full.
Examples of registered dietitian-approved bedtime snacks include leftover vegetable or chicken soup, cottage cheese with fruit, oatmeal with nut butter, and toast topped with avocado, cheese, and/or veggies. If you’re still not feeling full, wait about 20 to 30 minutes before considering another snack. At times, your brain may take up to half an hour to signal the rest of your body whether or not it is full.
At the end of the day, a bedtime snack may not be for everyone. Going through this checklist will help ensure that you are making the best decision for your health. To avoid overeating at night, make your best effort to eat most of your calories throughout the day. But, remember that eating a properly portioned, healthy bedtime snack at night after a day of not eating enough, will not make you gain weight. It is important to satiate our true hunger and nourish our bodies, rather than losing sleep over a diet myth.
Disclaimer**: If there are any other specific questions or concerns you may have, reach out to a doctor and registered dietitian for guidance.