Is Night Snacking Something to Feel Guilty About?

Ansley Knopf - Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Should you really not eat after 6pm?

Today I was participating in a live Facebook broadcast of one of my favorite habit formation and happiness authors and speakers. When she asked what good habit people would like to start, the majority was overwhelmingly health-related.

The top 3 listed were to start exercising regularly, make nutritious food choices including meal prep, and the most popular- stop late night snacking. Of course, I was ecstatic to see so many people were health-conscious! But I did have to add a small comment of my own since preciously mentioning that I was a certified health coach who really enjoyed the speakers habit formation strategies, that late night snacking was different than not eating after 6pm.

Which got me thinking- How many of you are still unsure about whether it’s okay to eat after it’s dark?

What is the “Don’t eat after a certain time” rule?

The rule of don’t eat after 6 pm, is a really outdated guideline for individuals that typically consume the necessary number of calories and nutrition in their waking hours, and then eat snacks after dinner in a mindless manner due to boredom, snack availability or just habit. These snacks are typically high in sugar, saturated or trans fats and very little nutritionally- also known as “empty calories.”

The rule is intended to help people to stop consuming excess calories to help them maintain their nutrition and weight goals, as well as encourage them to consume their food earlier in the day when their body can still use it as fuel for the day, as opposed too right before they go to sleep and then the calories are stored in fat cells.

What is misguiding about this rule?

First of all, any excess calories consumed, no matter when they are eaten- will be stored in fat cells. Secondly, the body is not dormant during sleep, your body is actually quite active, and may be doing even more work than when you are awake. During sleep the body repairs injuries, rebuilds muscle, replaces spinal fluid in your vertebral discs, and restores cognitive function to your brain, as well as digestion and overall regeneration in addition to a multitude of other things.And finally, there is no magic time that a person’s metabolism turns on and off. If a metabolism if healthy and functioning properly, your resting metabolic rate will determine the amount of calories you need to function.

What are better guidelines to follow?

Like all broad nutrition guidelines, they serve you best when they are customized to you, but some more specific guidelines to follow for the general population would be similar to the following:

  • 1)Your schedule will determine when you need to eat.  Especially for those with early shifts or night shifts, you really have to adapt your eating habits to your schedule. It is perfectly fine to eat a small, well-balanced meal or snack after 6 pm if you work a late shift.
  • 2)Your resting metabolic rate and total daily energy expenditure are the best guidelines for how many calories you need to consume daily.  These are individual calculations to determine how many calories you need to function and reach your personal wellness and fitness goals. If you don’t know what these are for you, be sure to connect with me, as they are an essential part of your program.
  • 3)Your body may be trying to tell you that it needs something.  You don’t want to assume your hunger after 6pm when you ate dinner at 5 is something to be ignored. Your body may be hungry or thirsty. Try a glass of water first and see how you feel, if you still feel hungry, eat a small well-balanced snack that is easily digestible- like a bowl of cereal or an apple and peanut butter. Avoid foods that have caffeine, added sugar, are hard to digest or are filled with heavy carbohydrates.
  • 4)If you like to eat a snack at night, plan to succeed  Pick out a healthy snack that is special to just evening time that you only get to eat during that time, and the portion you are going to eat. For instance, blueberries and a square or two of dark chocolate. Or that glass of red wine you enjoy? Put it on your meal/snack plan. The goal is to plan for the snacks. You control what you are going to be consuming, rather than allowing the “urge” or habit to control you. Don’t eat mindlessly or on a whim. Be intentional.
  • 5)Remember to think of calories as energy.  Calories are small blocks of energy that your body either utilizes or stores. They are not villains looking to derail you from your goals. When do you need the most energy? Most of you would say in the morning, as well as before and after a workout. Thinking of calories as energy reminds you to consume the largest amount of energy when you can best utilize it. You fill your gas tank up before a trip right? Think of the beginning of each day as a long trip, and night-time snacks as “top-offs.”
  • 6)Remember to breathe, and savor the foods you enjoy and look at the whole journey of health and wellness. Ultimately food is fuel, but it should also add enhancement and value to your life, so if you are enjoying the food you eat during the day, you will find less need to look for a “guilty pleasure food” during the evening time.

Tell me your thoughts about night snacking and what you thought of the guidelines in a comment or message! I’d love to hear about your personal experiences and questions. Have a favorite healthy snack that you love? Share it in the comments below!



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