To eat after dinner or not to eat after dinner? That is the question!

One common weight loss strategy is: no food after 6:00pm (insert arbitrary time after dinner…I have heard them all!). When asked why, the usual response is: we don’t burn Calories during sleep. HOWEVER, this is not entirely true. The body is always burning Calories. Breathing, digesting, thermal regulation, etc., all require energy, so as long as those things are happening (and it is a good thing they always are!), we burn Calories.

Do we burn as many Calories as we do when awake? Well, no; but, the body definitely does not completely shut down during sleep. Now, this is not to say that we all NEED a snack after dinner; but, if we feel hungry after dinner, we shouldn’t ignore it.

Why might not eating after dinner encourage weight loss? First: if you usually snack after dinner and all-of-a-sudden stop snacking but keep the rest of your meals the same, you eat fewer Calories each day! Fewer Calories = weight loss! The point to remember is that the rest of your meals and snacks need to be the same. If you eat less at night, but “make up for it” during the day, you will not lose weight. Second: what types of foods make up usual night-time snacks? Lots of “empty Calories” come to mind: sweet and/or salty snacks, high in Calories and low in vitamins/minerals/nutrients, with negative effects on conditions like obesity, diabetes, and/or heart problems. Cutting out these snacks may promote weight loss and improve health simply by getting rid of extra Calories.

For those of us managing diabetes, bedtime snacks can affect blood sugar. Some people taking insulin may need a snack before bed to prevent low blood sugar. For those not taking insulin: sweet, low fiber snacks, will raise blood sugar overnight. The snack plus the “Dawn Phenomenon” (natural rise in blood sugar in the early morning hours to prepare the body to wake up) may cause a high blood sugar in the morning.

If you are hungry before bed, though, what type of snacks should we choose? Well, if we feel hungry, we eat to feel satisfied! So, what types of foods satisfy us?: Protein and fiber! As a person with diabetes, homemade popcorn with garlic powder and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, celery or carrots with salsa, a small bowl of high fiber cereal, or Wheat Thins (whole wheat crackers) and low-fat cottage cheese are my personal favorites.

Remember: weight loss is all about Calories. It doesn’t matter what time you eat the Calories, they all count! Overeating during the day OR at night causes weight gain, and limiting Calories during the day OR at night causes weight loss. Your body’s hunger and fullness cues and daily weight tracking are the best ways to know if you are eating enough or too much.

Next time you head to the kitchen for a snack, ask yourself:
1. Why am I eating?
2. What nutrients will the snack provide?
3. How will this snack affect my blood (sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, etc)?

What are your usual bedtime snacks? Are there any changes you might make to your snack schedule or the snacks you choose after reading this?


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