“Should I Stop Eating After Dinner?”
This is one of the top 5 questions I get while working with Healthworks members. Many women try to stop eating after a certain point of the night or ask if they should start implementing a cutoff time to help manage their nutrition better.
There are a couple reasons this question persists. Let’s take a look at them and get some answers.
“If I eat and then go to sleep, I won’t burn it and it’ll get stored as extra body fat.”
The body continues to utilize energy even in a resting state. If, throughout the course of the day, you’re within your recommended energy needs, your body will not store food as extra body fat even if you eat right before bed.
In actuality, if you had dinner at 6pm and you’re planning to be up until 10 or 11pm, blood sugar levels will drop and appetite hormones will kick in. It’s natural to be hungry again.
Plan to have something small an hour or so before bed to manage hunger and pre-empt your cravings: a slice of toast with peanut butter, bowl of cereal, frozen yogurt with fruit, or another snack of choice!
“I eat mindlessly and find that I can’t stop late at night.”
Eating mindlessly in the evenings typically IS a risk factor for weight gain. If you find yourself eating dinner and then returning to the kitchen multiple times throughout the evening, you’re likely to eat more than your recommended energy needs. There are a couple ways to manage this.
First, make sure you’re eating 3 meals and 1-3 snacks to manage nutrition and hunger earlier in the day. Second, make sure you’re getting a balance of complex grains, healthy fats, lean protein, and fruits and veggies at each meal. Third, respond to your craving rather than eating around it: if you crave chocolate, have some chocolate! Responding to your cravings proactively will reduce impulse eating over the long term.
“I want to try intermittent fasting.”
Intermittent fasting is a style of eating that aims for a period of 10 or 12 hours of fasting, typically framed around sleep. Anecdotally, this has been promoted as a successful way to lose weight, manage insulin levels, and reduce inflammation. Scientifically, there is no evidence that any of these effects are likely. There may also be some risk factors associated with fasting.
For people prone to sudden drops in blood sugar (hypoglycemia), fasting may result in dizziness, nausea, fatigue, irritability, or even fainting. For women looking to have children, pregnant women, or women who are breastfeeding, fasting may compromise the nutrient intake required for optimal fetal development and breast milk. Fasting can also be a risk factor for overeating, as some studies suggests that it increases dopamine release during eating which makes eating more emotionally pleasurable.
The takeaway: There is nothing wrong with eating after dinner. The best way to manage night eating is to proactively meet your nutrient needs earlier in the day, respond to cravings by eating the foods you love in appropriate portion sizes, and plan to have a small snack if you’re going to be up 3-4 hours after dinner.