Contemplating the Midnight Snack

Is eating before bed a good or bad idea? You’re about to find out.

For years, eating at night was thought to be a factor in weight gain. The idea was that calories are not burned as quickly when you sleep, so the food you eat before bedtime turns into fat. This, however, does not seem to be the case.

In fact, there may be some snacks that are fine to eat in the late evening, but this isn’t a free pass because there are plenty of foods to avoid for a good night’s rest and optimal health.

Count Your Calories

It is a myth that food eaten at bedtime turns into fat. What determines if you lose or gain weight is the number of calories consumed and burned throughout the day – not the time of day you consume them. You could eat all your calories of the day right before bed and not gain any more weight than if they were evenly spread out over three meals. That’s right – a calorie is a calorie no matter what time of day you eat or drink it.

Mindless Snacking

Though eating before bed will not cause you to gain weight, you should still be cautious when it comes to snacking. It is easy to get carried away in the evenings. Whether it be because of boredom, stress, or mindless eating while watching TV or a movie, you are more likely to consume excess, unnecessary high-calorie snacks such as ice cream, chips, and cookies late at night. If you find yourself overdoing nighttime snacking, you’ll do well to avoid eating after dinner altogether.

Healthy Options

As long as you remember to count your snack as part of your daily calories, it is fine to eat a healthy snack after dinner. If you find yourself needing that extra bite before bed, a healthy option might be low-fat popcorn, yogurt, fruit, cottage cheese, celery, or carrot sticks.

A good rule of thumb if you’re watching your weight is to make sure you consume at least 90 percent of your total calories before 8 p.m., and eat them throughout the day. When your meals are evenly spaced throughout the day, your blood sugar regulates itself, helping you control your calorie cravings.

Other Issues to Consider

Besides watching calories, be mindful of other issues when it comes to eating before bed. Going to bed hungry may keep you awake, but if you eat too much it may be uncomfortable to lie down and difficult to fall asleep. Heartburn is also a concern if you eat too close to bedtime. Heartburn occurs when acid and food from your stomach start to come back up your esophagus, causing a burning sensation in your chest. While any number of foods can cause heartburn, it is often caused by caffeinated drinks and high-fat or spicy foods.

Caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine also have the potential to negatively affect your quality of sleep. Nicotine and caffeine are stimulants, and that’s the last thing you need if you need a good night’s sleep. If you just have to drink a soda, get ready to stay up late, because it can take up to six hours for caffeine to leave your system. So if you’re planning to go to bed at 10 p.m., don’t drink coffee or soda any later than 4 p.m. And though alcohol is a sedative that will initially help you fall asleep, it will disrupt your stages of sleep, preventing deep sleep and actually causing you to wake you up in the middle of the night.

So next time you get the munchies at bedtime, remember that it is OK to snack on healthy, low-calorie foods. Just stay away from fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeine.

Don’t Believe It?

It’s hard to believe that snacking after dinnertime is safe to do. If you can’t bring yourself to accept that it’s okay to snack late, no problem. Keep your snacking to the daytime hours. Make sure your snacks are healthy, and your body will thank you, no matter what time you eat!

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