I am often asked by our clients at Village if eating right before bed will make them fat.
In short, my answer is no. Usually.
Some experts say eating before bed does indeed lead to weight gain, while others say it supports a healthy diet. Who are we to believe?
The Pre Bed Time Eating Conundrum
The detractors to eating just before bed claim your metabolism shuts down when you sleep. If you eat just before bed, you’ll store your food as fat. It makes sense in theory.
Others claim it doesn’t matter when you consume the food you eat during the day if your goal is to lose weight. I lean more in this direction.
It’s no surprise many of our clients are confused.
The research is even controversial.
Our metabolism certainly doesn’t come to a screeching halt when we sleep. It actually takes more energy to sleep than it does to watch TV.
There is no evidence to support the claim that eating meals during a certain time of day makes weight loss easier. In fact, it doesn’t even matter how many meals you eat per day. You could have one meal with 2000 calories per day or 4 meals with 500 each. Research has shown they will have a similar effect on your metabolism.
However, there are a few surprising studies which have linked weight gain to pre bed time eating.
What’s going on?
It’s rather simple.
People who eat just before bed are usually eating the meal as an “extra” snack. The added calories seem to be the cause for the unwanted weight gain. Night time is when most of our clients eat the bulk of their calories. Therefore it makes sense the pre bed time snack would be a calorie-laden affair.
Worse yet, many people eat mindlessly while they watch Netflix on the couch. It’s much tougher to stop at the point of fullness while distracted by a TV show.
Eating before bed isn’t bad because of the time of day. It’s bad because we often make poor food choices and eat too much. It’s more the unhealthy habits that accompany bedtime snacking than the time of day itself.
Waiting until the end of the day to eat most of your calories is a poor strategy for weight loss. Eat multiple small meals throughout the day starting with a good breakfast.
I used to think I needed to eat every few hours or my metabolism would turn into a fat-storing machine. Now I understand this isn’t how the human body works. Yet, I still try to get snacks in during the day if I’m hungry. This helps keep me from overeating later in the day.
I also have zero willpower for bad food by the end of the day. If I wait to eat most of my calories for the day until night time, I will most likely make poor choices.
Who shouldn’t eat before bed?
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can be exacerbated when you eat just before bed.
You’ll know your late-night eating is leading to GERD if you get indigestion once you lay on your back.
If you have these symptoms, you may want to avoid snacking before bed. Experts recommend giving yourself three hours before you go to bed.
GERD or no GERD, I think it’s a good idea to give your body a few hours to digest your food before you drift off the sleep. But, like I said before, the time of day you eat does not play a role in weight loss.
Eating before bed can curb late-night snacking
Let’s say you’re like my client Jack (not his real name) and you wake up in the middle of the night ravenous and without an ounce of willpower. Jack tends to make very poor food choices in the middle of the night.
For these folks, a bed-time snack of satiating protein can really help to ward off late-night cravings.
I sleep better after a solid meal than when I’m hungry. Many of my clients report the same phenomena.
This doesn’t mean you need a huge meal before bed. Something normal sized with carbs, protein, and healthy fats a few hours before bed will be great.
Some research supports eating a high-carb meal before bed to aid sleep. It seems the carbs up-regulate the transport of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is highly involved in the sleep cycle.
Things to keep in mind
Stay away from dessert and junk food just before bed. Ok, so eating before bed isn’t a surefire way to gain weight. But, eating ice cream every night certainly won’t make losing weight easy.
Foods high in sugar and saturated fats lead to cravings and overeating later on.
If you have a sweet tooth like me, try having a piece of fruit after dinner.
Stick with protein. You can pair it with good carbs or healthy fats. But, always have some protein.
Pairing protein or a small amount of carbs or fat helps regulate blood sugar and keep you feeling full.
However, these combinations may have other benefits as well.
- Banana or apple with peanut or almond butter
- Cheese stick
- Plain yogurt with fruit
Should you eat before bed? That depends on what you’re eating and how much you’ve eaten the rest of the day. If you feel it’s helps you reach your fitness goals, go for it. If not, avoid it.