Healthy Late Night Eating. Unless we are talking about a bunch of raw carrots without dip at 1.33 a.m. – is that even possible?! I remember my mother telling us kids that we shouldn’t eat after 8 o’clock at night because it was “bad for us”. No further explanation, no reason, just “it is bad for you”. Years later I eventually figured out that the only one for whom eating after eight was bad for, was, in fact, my mother herself because she a) really didn’t feel like making sandwiches etc for us while her favorite series were on TV and b) she didn’t care for cleaning the kitchen late at night. However, the thought and warning stuck in my head, so for many years to come, I tried to follow that rule. Then, as I grew up, my life and my time lines and schedules changed. I started hanging out with my friends until late and more often than not we would all get hungry before we parted ways so I got used to at least snacking after 8 pm 😉 . Then I started working different jobs to support myself and my education, did a lot of night shifts and everyone who has ever worked the graveyard shift will know exactly what I am talking about now: The Hunger Hits After Midnight. That really is true. And your body ain’t asking for no carrots, no sir. After midnight, the only ideas in my brain’s food center seemed to be pizza, pasta, burgers or fries. So, rather impactful and sudden, my eating habits changed. But lets take a look on whether or not eating at night is really bad for you and if there is really such a thing as eating healthy after the sun goes down!
Why The Midnight Snack Is Bad News
A guy I studied medicine with asked me one day out the blue: do you indulge after midnight? I will admit here and now that the first thoughts this question evoked were on something other than food ;-). My answer was accordingly irritated, telling him that I didn’t think that was anything of his f***ing business. Okay. My whole face lit up like the red-light district with embarrasment once I figured out he actually wanted to know if I routinely ATE after midnight. As it turned out, he was part of a study group that looked into the effects of late night binges. Oops…..
So the question is, do those night calories “weigh” more? Do they wreak havoc? Are they likely to add to causing modern chronic diseases such as diabetes? Scientists used to say “a calorie is a calorie no matter when you consume it”. But extensive research that has been done on the subject shows that to be far from the truth; at what time you choose to eat your meals may have more impact than you like. The fact of the matter is that when food is consumed late at night – that means after dinnertime or outside someone’s normal routine sleep/wake cycle – your body will store those calories differently and thus you actually gain more weight. We simply seem to process our food differently at different times of day and night. Our body functions change according to the time of day – varying core body temperatures, biochemical cycles, hormone levels etc. and we just have a different level of physical activity. Eating food when your body should sleep and all functions are in sleep mode can cause excess weight gain and high blood sugar levels. Does it matter then whether you choose that bunch of carrots or the pizza pie? Of course it does. It matters at lunchtime, it stands to reason that it would matter even more at night when your digestion seems to be working at low speed. It doesn’t really help to know that it is scientifically proven that at night the human brain lusts for food which is either sweet or salty, both more often than not high caloric in nature. So yeah, looking at all of these facts it seems indeed that the midnight snack is bad news ……
Why Do We Eat Late Then?
In our modern times and lifestyles we have adopted a certain food rhythm that is aligned with our schedules. In the mornings we are all rushed and busy getting the kids to school, getting the dogs walked and ourselves to work or to the gym. That morning rush doesn’t really leave any time for a lengthy breakfast (high caloric, which would be best in the morning!) so we settle for a bowl of cereals or a piece of fruit and of course, a cup of coffee. Pretty much the same holds true for lunch. If – and thats a big “if” – we do get to have a lunch break, we usually opt for something light and fast, a salad or a Sandwich for instance. And then at night we all sit down together for our multi-million-calory extensive family dinner. It is high time we started re-thinking our routines and even if we choose to eat a full dinner at night, at least make sure that it is healthy.
How To Reprogram Food Culture Evolution
Why do we like to eat at night? Is it just because it fits better into our lifestyles? Into our routines? Or are there other reasons that make us tick from deep within our evolutionary memory?
For our primal ancestors when food was scarce one of the most efficient things to do in the evening was to eat. That’s when the body can store energy as fat and glycogen, so that you’re ready for what might happen the next day without having to immediately replenish calories by eating. So Mr. Neanderthal Forefather ate his fatty mammoth at night in order to be able to still feel the energy of that in the morning when he needed to be out and hunt again. Smart, actually. But what was smart from an evolutionary standpoint is just plainly out-of-date now in the age of 24/7 stores and restaurants, fridges and an abundance of food. So again, we need to re-learn. We need to rewrite our routines and habits if we want to avoid the negative effects associated with late night eating.
Not All Bad – Late Night Eating Can Help With Muscle Repair
So far, late night eating sounded like an overall bad idea. Are there any scientifically proven positive aspects at all? Well. Surprisingly, there are!
A number of recent small studies have shown that consuming a 150-calorie protein shake 30 minutes before bed may help muscles grow, quell morning appetite, boost metabolism, help the body recover from tough workouts and have other positive effects. In one study, 44 healthy young men who had a protein shake before bed gained more strength and muscle mass from a three-month resistance training routine than those who did not.
The hypothesis here would be that by having a small protein snack before bed, you keep a constant influx of protein in your blood, so it can help build and repair muscle tissue while you’re sleeping. And since the body has to burn calories to digest the food, there’s a chance it might keep the metabolism a little more revved up overnight.
If my study buddy were to ask me again today whether I indulge after mignight I would smile and say: sure, who doesn’t? Yes, eating late may have negative side effects on the blood sugar levels and it may hinder weight loss – so if you are diabetic, pre-diabetic, overweight or struggling to lose weight you should definitely stay away from eating a lot after lunch. Make breakfast or lunch your main meal and eat lightly, healthily at night. However, I personally have decided not to worry about it too much. If I occassionally get a craving for chips or Popcorn or icecream while watching a movie with my wife after 8 p.m. I will indulge myself. I will also make sure to not skip any work-outs ;-). Like everything in life, the key is the right balance!
Hope you found my post interesting. If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or shoot me a PM at firstname.lastname@example.org