Whether you eat during the day or at night, a calorie is still a calorie, and eating too many calories is what causes weight gain. However, the idea persists that eating too close to bedtime can cause fat gain. If you frequently eat immediately before bed and are gaining weight, take a look at what you're eating, not when you're eating it.
Dispelling the Myth
Your body's metabolism does slow down when you sleep, which is part of the basis for the myth that your body doesn't burn enough calories at night to prevent weight gain from late-night eating. However, it doesn't slow down that much -- your body still uses energy for basic bodily functions, according to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. When it comes to the overall pattern of weight gain and loss, it doesn't matter if you eat your calories at 7 a.m., 1 p.m. or midnight, your body uses them for fuel and stores the excess as fat in the same way, despite the time.
Late-Night Snacks and Weight Gain
When it comes to weight gain from late-night snacking, it's more why and what you eat than when you eat it. According to BIDMC, you're more likely to eat at night when you're bored, tired or stressed rather than actually hungry, and you're more likely to make bad food choices. Unless you're the type to choose raw vegetables as a snack when you're exhausted rather than potato chips or ice cream, you might be consuming high-calorie junk food -- and that will more likely lead to fat accumulation. The effects can last until the morning, says registered dietitian Keri Gans, as going to bed on a full stomach can interfere with sleep. When you wake up in the morning, you're still tired and you make an unhealthy breakfast decision, too.
Cutting Back on Late-Night Eating
Before you eat before you sleep, H.A.L.T. -- that is, ask yourself if you're hungry, angry, lonely or tired. If you can answer yes to any of those, then you might want to step away from the refrigerator. However, much of your pre-sleep eating intervention strategy should occur during the day. Registered dietitian Joy Bauer recommends eating regularly throughout the day so you're not overly hungry before bedtime. She also suggests keeping yourself busy by picking up a knitting habit or exercising in the evening to prevent yourself from getting bored.
Healthy Snack Options
Sometimes actual hunger strikes and you need to eat a snack before sleeping. Don't deprive yourself if you're truly hungry -- instead, choose your pre-bedtime snack wisely. Gans recommends aiming to eat 100 calories or less. Nutritious options include a cup of berries, 3 cups of air-popped popcorn, raw vegetables or 6 ounces of nonfat yogurt. If you need a sweet treat, she suggests a sugar-free ice pop or one serving of low-fat pudding.