I couldn’t even count the number of Whataburger HBCBs I’ve consumed these past couple of months (thanks, midterms!). Even worse is the percentage of the times I’ve eaten them past 8 p.m. Weight loss articles forbid us to eat late at night, but scientific studies tell us that it is perfectly okay to do so. What gives?
When you eat late at night, before bed, your activity level falls and triglyceride levels rise. Then, you store the excess calories as fat. Since you go probably won’t be hitting the gym after those problem sets, this fat isn’t burned.1 However, the HMR Diet blog explains that the issue may arise from the types of foods you are eating late at night, rather than consuming a large amount calories late in the day. To combat this, they suggest healthy alternatives to the late-night junk food binge.2 These types of foods can include fruit smoothies, yogurt, and cut veggies with peanut butter. Picking an alternative full of fiber and protein will be your best bet5. This approach can help you feel full longer as well.
It can be hard to make the switch. Studies show that our meals get less and less healthy as the day goes on. In fact, for every hour, the “healthiness” decreases by 1.7%. 3 Sometimes we need comfort food at night! The good news is some comfort food can easily be made healthy, like choosing to eat dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate.5 The majority of late night snacking turns out to be pizza and other fast food, which are high in calories at any time of day.6 Combined with the lack of physical activity at night, it is a recipe for continuous weight gain.
Time Magazine recommends evaluating the amount of calories you’ve previously consumed throughout the day.4 This alternative allows you to shift your caloric intake to later in the day, but you have to continue to make sure your activity level stays up (i.e. not going straight to sleep after eating). If you consume the majority of your calories beginning at noon because you wake up late, you can eat the rest of your meals and snack later than usual.
At the end of the day, the calories of a hamburger at lunch and at 11 p.m. are the same. It is the difference in our activity levels that make us gain weight, and I’m in no position to add the sophomore 30 to my freshman 15. However, this is not a reason to kick the late-night eating habit to the curb. Instead, alter your habits and store some healthy snacks for your late-night cravings.
Dana Smith is a sophomore in Wiess College at Rice University.
Davies, M. 5 Reasons You Should Not Eat After 8 PM. Eat Live Life, (accessed 2015).
Hatfield, A. Myth Buster: Why Eating After 8:00 Doesn’t Matter. HMR Diet, (accessed 2015).
11 Facts About American Eating Habits. 11 Facts About American Eating Habits, (accessed 2015).
Snyderman, N. Debunking 10 Myths About Dieting. Time, (accessed 2015).
Miller, P. Healthy Foods to Eat After 8 PM. Healthy Eating, (accessed 2015).
Smith, J. 11 Nutrition Myths That Can Cause Weight Gain. Shape Magazine, (accessed 2015).