Let’s be honest: Everyone struggles at some time with late night snacking. After all, who doesn’t get the midnight munchies?
As I research the topic of late-night snacking, I find disagreement among the experts.
Some nutritionists argue that to say late-night snacking causes you to gain weight is not completely accurate. According to the Regional Nutritionists of Newfoundland & Labrador, late night snacking can lead to weight gain but it is not due to the time on the clock.
Here’s where they agree. The real trouble with late-night snacking is that it can lead you to eat more calories than your body needs in a day, especially if they are high-calorie snack foods or sweetened beverages.
A study performed by Barbara Rolls, professor of nutrition at Penn State University and author of the “Volumetrics Eating Plan” surveyed more than 1,800 Americans. The study showed that there was no association between the extent of the evening eating and weight change over a 10-year period.
As some diet experts explain it, weight loss, gain, or stabilization is based on total calories consumed per day versus the amount of energy burned.
Therefore, late-night snacking is primarily a bad habit simply because it increases total calorie intake. A calorie is a calorie, no matter when it is consumed.
But make no mistake, those calories do add up.
“Just an added 300 calories in the evening after dinner while watching TV — when you’re not even hungry — can pack on an extra 30 pounds in one year,” cautions Katherine Tallmadge, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.
But researchers have also found the reverse is true — cut out that evening snack altogether and you might lose 30 pounds in one year. Change it to fruit and lose 20 pounds in a year. “It’s the small, easy changes you make in eating that have the most dramatic and lasting effects,” says Tallmadge.
Regularly eating at night can initiate a vicious cycle. If you go to sleep full, you wake up fuller that you might have been otherwise. In response, you skip breakfast, which drives you to eat more later in the day.
For some, this may mean the largest meal of the day occurs in the evening. Among nutritionists there’s a pretty strong consensus that you shouldn’t skip breakfast when trying to lose weight — or ever, really.
A suggestion would be to eat more at other times. To help prevent a binge at night, experts recommend increasing the size of breakfast and lunch. This helps spread your calories throughout the day and prevents trying to compensate for the day’s calories at night.
What is more important is not watching the clock, but to focus on your food choices. If you usually get hungry for an evening snack try eating dinner a little later.
Still hungry? Perhaps sip on some water with a squeeze of lemon, or go for small portions of healthy choices like whole grain cereal with skim milk, a piece of fruit, or plain air-popped popcorn.
Better yet, reward yourself with a non-food treat like a bubble bath, massage or a nice late night walk.
Juan Sanchez has been program director at the YMCA for 10 years and personal trainer for 16 years.