If you are trying to lose or maintain your weight, you may struggle with nighttime cravings. While eating at night is not necessarily bad, it could cause weight gain, especially if you opt for calorie-packed snacks that are rich in sugar. Determine how a particular snack will impact your diet by paying attention to what you eat during the rest of the day.
Each person needs a certain number of calories for energy and to maintain his weight. You can use a small percentage of those calories, called discretionary calories, on ingredients that do not provide nutrients, or empty calories. These are the calories left over after you eat all of the foods and nutrients you need for good health. You may use up the majority of your calories just eating the protein foods, vegetables, fruits, dairy and grains recommended under USDA intake recommendations, leaving little rooms for treats. Track your calorie intake throughout the day to find out how much of your calorie "budget" you can spent on late-night treats.
One old wives' tale is that eating after dinner might cause more weight gain than eating the same amount of food earlier in the day. While studies have not proven this to be the case, the American Council on Exercise points out that individuals who tend to eat late at night may also tend to eat a full day's worth of calories earlier in the day, causing weight gain. Also, your metabolism does slow down at night, so if you are having trouble losing weight or if you are gaining weight, try eliminating your after-dinner snacks.
Instead of eating candy at night, think about what else might satisfy your craving. If you are looking for something sweet, a piece of fruit or a small bowl of berries might do the trick. If you are craving crunch, try air-popped popcorn. For those nights that you really cannot come up with a satisfying substitute, try to lessen the impact of the candy by eating only half a serving.
When considering your discretionary calories, keep in mind that choosing healthy foods with added fat or sugar throughout the day may use up many of these extra calories. For example, making mashed potatoes with butter and whole milk takes calories from your discretionary budget that a plain baked potato does not. Using up too many of these calories during the day, then adding in a high-calorie snack at night, can be a recipe for weight gain. Eating sugary foods before bed can cause you to have a high blood glucose level when you wake up in the morning, so if you are diabetic, talk to your doctor about what types of snacks are safe for you to eat at night. Even if you are not diabetic, if your glucose level is high enough that your pancreas releases insulin into your bloodstream, your body may respond by holding onto fat, making it difficult to lose weight.