Many of us have, at one time or another, experienced a “late night eating” pattern. This is a very common behavior that is seen during periods of anxiety, depression or lowered self-esteem. A night eating syndrome is defined as when we consume at least 25- 50% of our daily calories after dinner time on a regular basis.
While the occasional late night eating or snacking is fine, provided you choose healthy foods and not heavy, greasy or highly sugared foods, persistent late night eating can cause problems for the digestive system and for your ability to sleep well. Studies at the Weill Cornell Medical Center show that people who eat late at night eat more calories than they would if they were eating during the daytime. This does not bode well for the work your digestive system has to do while you are sleeping or for calorie and weight management.
In addition, eating late into the evening can offset how well your body is able to rest, repair and recharge. When the body is busy digesting, absorbing and assimilating nutrients at night rather than taking the necessary rest and healing the body requires during sleep hours, you can wake up feeling fatigued and out of sorts.
Here are some ideas of how to avoid late night eating and create healthy habits:
• Eat a large dinner before 6:00 PM. This will give you a feeling of fullness, reduce late night hunger and prepare your body to slow down and get ready for a good nights sleep.
• When you feel the urge to eat late at night, eat or drink something low in calories that will provide both emotional and physical nourishment. A packet of hot, instant oatmeal is delicious, filling and only 150 calories.
• If you have allowed yourself to get into the habit of eating late, you can start slowly to change that by reducing the amount of food you eat each evening and then choosing more plant based and natural foods to consume which will healthier, more nutritious as well as lower in calorie intake.
• Do not eat processed foods, white flour or sugar or “treats” after 6:00 pm. These foods can cause spikes and drops in your sugar levels and lead to late night hunger.
• An interesting strategy is brushing your teeth earlier in the evening. Many people find that after they brush their teeth they are not as likely to consume more food because the do not want to have to repeat their dental hygiene routine over again.
• Exercise in the evening, in place of TV watching, is a wonderful blood sugar regulator that allows not only for better digestion, increased calorie burning, more toned muscles and a deeper sleep, but it also prevents getting triggered by TV commercials to want to eat more.
Late night eating is something we should all avoid, apart from the occasional indulgence, to keep our bodies functioning and healing at its best during our sleeping hours.
- Dr. Georgianna Donadio