Kicking the Late Night Eating Habit Can Help You to Lose Weight

Avoid Mindless Late Night Eating with These Tips

EB Pictures/Moment Mobile/Getty Images

Are you one of those people that "eat good all day" and then crave snacks after dinner and wind up snacking on whatever you want? Don't worry, you are not alone. Believe it or not, many people who are trying to diet or eat healthier fall into this routine. The question is whether this habit is a result of something physiological or psychological? Unless your blood sugar is low, the odds are it is psychological and has become a habit.

The habit of eating at night can be detrimental to blood sugar control and can even stand in the way of weight loss. Studies have shown that eating a majority of your calories late at night can prevent you from losing weight.

How Does Eating Too Much Before Bed Disturb Weight and Blood Sugar Control?

Eating Before Bed Can Disrupt Sleep:

Eating or drinking too much before bed can cause potential heartburn or bathroom visits, thus disrupting sleep. Studies have shown that lack of sleep can negatively impact blood sugars and result in elevated hemoglobin A1cs. Lack of sleep can also affect hormones, which regulate feelings of fullness and hunger; insufficient sleep has been shown to decrease the satiety hormone, leptin, and increase the hunger hormone ghrelin. If you are not getting adequate sleep, you may feel more hungry throughout the day and take in extra calories, thus causing weight gain. 

Late Night Eating Can Spike Blood Sugars:

Excess carbohydrates in the evening can result in elevated morning blood sugars. It is very difficult to regulate your blood sugar when you start off the day with it being above goal. The American Diabetes Association recommends that fasting blood sugar (mornings) for most people with type 2 diabetes should range between 80-130mg/dL. If you are waking up with numbers above 130mg/dL, it may be helpful to reduce your carbohydrate intake at dinner or before bed.

How Can You Prevent Late Night Eating? 

Eat Regular Meals: 

One of the best ways to prevent late night eating is to avoid skipping meals. Meal skipping can put you at risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) as well as increase the urge to overeat later on. Aim to eat three balanced meals and an afternoon snack daily. This will help you to feel less hungry at night. Once you are eating less at night, you likely will feel more hungry throughout the day. It is often hard to eat breakfast when your last meal or snack took place hours before rising. By reducing intake at night, you can wake up feeling hungry and ready to eat breakfast. Studies have shown that people who eat larger breakfast meals can reduce their weight and HgbA1c's. Make it a goal to eat breakfast daily.

Remove Your Trigger Foods: 

Out of sight, out of mind, right? If there are certain foods you gravitate towards in the evening, don't buy them. Either throw away what you have in the house, or finish it and avoid purchasing it again. If it's not there, you can't eat it. Restock your kitchen with healthy foods. If you need to have a small snack, you want have good options to choose from.

Break Your Habit By Creating a New One:

If every night when you sit down to watch television you find yourself in the kitchen rummaging through the cabinets to find a snack—stop watching television at night until you break your habit or watch it in a different room. Picking a new location may help to prevent your desire to eat. Aim to choose places as far from the kitchen as possible. A great way to prevent late night eating is to do some light exercise after dinner—go for a walk or a bike ride while listening to music. You may also want to try some relaxing techniques—take a bath or do some yoga. Trying new activities, such as reading a magazine, journaling or calling a friend may help to reduce cravings. 

What If I Tried Those Things and I am Still Hungry? 

Make Your Snack Count and Portion Controlled: 

Perhaps you've tried all these things and you still want a snack or dessert. Make dessert worth your while and consider it to be a treat. If you are eating dessert nightly, the odds are you are not enjoying it as much as you would if you had it on occasion. Make an event of it—go out for a small ice cream once per week. If you find that you'd rather have a small treat before bed, aim to keep it to about 100 calories.

  • 1 container of low-fat Greek yogurt (you can freeze it so it's ice cream consistency)
  • 1 low-fat pudding cup
  • 1 1/2 cup frozen strawberries (frozen fruit takes a long time to eat and is refreshing)
  • 3 cups air popped popcorn
  • 1/2 cup of iced cream
  • 1 slice of whole grain bread with a teaspoon of nut butter (almond, peanut, cashew)
  • 1 piece of fresh fruit (size of tennis ball), 1 cup of berries or 1 cup melon

Consider Seeing a Specialist 

If you've struggled with weight your whole life and just can't stick to a plan because of emotional reasons or stress eating, you may benefit from seeing someone who specializes in behavior modification. A therapist can help to provide you with the support, encouragement, and education you need to make life-lasting changes.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

  • Copinschi, G, Leproult, R, Spiegal, K. The important role of sleep on metabolism.
  • Cunningham, Eleese, RDN. American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Stop the Cravings.
  • Gebel, Erika, PhD. The Role of Sleep in Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Forecast Magazine. 
  • Leman, Cathy, MA, RD, LD. Today's Dietitian. Night Eating Syndrome.
  • The Nighttime Nibbler - Counseling Overweight Adults Sample Handout. Adapted from Dr. Kushner’s Personality Type Diet. Copyright 2009 Robert Kushner, MD.