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The Effects of Eating Late at Night

by
author image August McLaughlin
August McLaughlin is a certified nutritionist and health writer with more than nine years of professional experience. Her work has been featured in various magazines such as "Healthy Aging," "CitySmart," "IAmThatGirl" and "ULM." She holds specializations in eating disorders, healthy weight management and sports nutrition. She is currently completing her second cookbook and Weight Limit—a series of body image/nutrition-related PSAs.
The Effects of Eating Late at Night
A woman looks in the fridge for a late night healthy snack. Photo Credit Konstantin Yuganov/iStock/Getty Images

Overview

Most everyone eats late at night on occasion. In some cases, eating during the late-night hours is harmless or even helpful. Excessive food quantities and eating particular foods, however, can cause problems. Consuming most of your calories during the day, in the form of balanced meals or snacks, promotes positive energy levels, appetite control and overall wellness. When you do resort to late-night eating, choose nutritious foods, such as whole grains, fruits or vegetables.

Sleep Effects

If you're famished during the late evening hours, a healthy or modest-size snack may help you sleep. When you are hungry at night, eat healthy snacks, such as oatmeal with low-fat milk, and avoiding large meals and spicy foods, which can cause discomfort and disrupt sleep. Avoid fluid-containing foods, such as soup and milkshakes, to prevent need for middle-of-the-night bathroom runs. Caffeinated foods and beverages, such as chocolate, coffee, energy drinks and various energy-boosting diet foods, can make it difficult to fall asleep and lead to daytime grogginess the following day.

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Weight Gain

Contrary to popular belief, eating late at night does not directly cause weight gain. Eating particular foods at night, however, can contribute to weight gain, according to dietitian Erica Blackburg. In an interview with ABC News published online in February 2003, Blackburg explained that people often resort to treat foods in the evening hours, such as ice cream or chips. Since these foods are dense in calories and low in nutrients, failing to stick to reasonable portion sizes can lead to excessive caloric intake and residual weight gain. If you then try to restrict calories the next day to compensate, the cycle is likely to repeat itself and lead to even more weight gain.

Eating calorie-dense foods late at night can enhance your wellness if you are underweight because of illness, medical treatment or reduced appetite. If this is the case, choose healthy calorie-dense foods, such as nuts, avocado or cheese, over processed snack foods.

Heartburn and Acid Reflux

Acid reflux is a common condition in which stomach acid moves back up into your esophagus after eating. It often accompanies heartburn, or a burning or tight pain in your lower or mid-chest. Though occasional, mild acid reflux and heartburn symptoms are rarely cause for alarm, recurrent symptoms can indicate the chronic digestive disorder, GERD—gastroesophageal reflux disease. Lying down after eating can trigger acid reflux and other GERD symptoms, according to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. Overeating or eating high-fat, greasy or acidic foods, such as tomato products, at night heighten these risks. For these reasons, you may benefit from avoiding late-night eating if you are prone to acid reflux or heartburn.

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References

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