Eating Late at Night: Good or Bad?

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

 

 

10 p.m.

 

Where had the day gone?

 

I often say, “There’s never enough time in a day”— from the time I wake up, to the time the sun goes down, so much happens in between, and yet, by the day’s end, I am often hit with the reality that:

 

Rome was not built in a day—nor was everything I intended to do conquered in the day. 

 

Sigh. I resolve to ‘attack it’ the next day and for the rest of the evening…to lay low…read, write, decompress…or on this particular evening, eat dinner.

 

It was 10 p.m. and I hadn’t eaten dinner yet.

 

Not because I hadn’t intended to eat dinner…It was just late by the time I got home.

 

I peeked in my fridge, whipped out some ground turkey; concocted my famous homemade burger recipe; threw the patties on a skillet; sauteed some kale and chard; pulled out some homemade sweet potato wedges I’d made a couple days earlier; sliced up some avocado; and boom…

 

10-minutes later, dinner was finished.

 

It was about 11 p.m. by the time I finished eating…(seriously, where did the day go?!)…and, with it being so late, it got me thinking…

 

Eating late at night is not so bad.

 

I’m not talking about binge eating…But eating past a certain time we are told to ‘stop eating’ because ‘bad things will happen’…Not the case

 

 

There’s some unwritten rule that goes something like:

 

No eating late at night…Or, no eating after 8 p.m….Or, no eating 2-3 hours before you go to bed…or “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” 

 

If you don’t abide by these ‘rules’, then there are popular theories that say:

  • Your body will store more fat (after all, “a scientific study showed that mice that ate during the evening were more likely to gain fat than mice that consumed the same amount of calories earlier in the day”)…
  • Your metabolism will slow…
  • You will disrupt your sleep and impact your recovery…
  • Your digestive system slows down at night, so any food eaten then will not be fully absorbed. 

At a quick glance, many of these theories seem to make sense. And. for many, many years, I lived and breathed by this rule—concerning meal timing; wanting to eat perfectly and at the ‘right time of day’ for my best metabolic function.

 

Like clock-work, I religiously stuck to what I thought was the optimal, ideal schedule for eating:

 

7 a.m. breakfast.

10:30 a.m. snack.

1 p.m. lunch.

4 p.m. snack.

7 p.m. dinner.

 

If a meal or snack happened to fall out of sync with this schedule I rigidly adhered to, then I did one of two things:

1.) Restricted what I could/could not eat at that meal or the next

2.) Skipped the meal altogether (for instance, if dinner was going to be at 8:30 p.m.—after my ideal time of 7 p.m., I would decide to skimp out on my food for the rest of the day)

In other words: I was bound to eating by a schedule and certain rules about meal/food timing rather than listening to my body.

 

 

Today I am busting the myth: Eating late at night is bad for you. 

 

Because…this is just not the case.

 

Regardless of the time of day you eat, your body, more than anything, processes the food you eat in a smimilar way—depending on its needs for the day.

 

In addition, I found, the more I ‘loosened’ my grip on ‘perfect’ meal timing—particularly ‘late night’ eating, the more I found that…

  • My body did not store extra fat
  • I was able to sleep just fine
  • I felt better throughout the days—(listening to my body’s hunger/fullness cues, rather than telling it when it should/shouldn’t eat based on the clock)
  • My digestion was not impacted

Upon doing a bit further research, here are a few facts I actually found too about late night eating (and why eating after 8 p.m. is not so bad for you):

 

1. Can Enhance Sleep & Recovery. Ever get sleep after eating a meal during the day? Think: the post-lunch sleepies. Since digestion is a process that requires energy, the body naturally pulls energy from other processes in our bodies, when digestion comes to the fore-front. Eating later in the evening can actually promote better sleep, rather than disrupting it (unless of course you overeat, which can, no question, be uncomfortable when you are experiencing indigestion, constipation or bloating). A normal, adequate amount of fuel for your body is no issue for sleep in the evening. In addition, if you’ve had a busy or active day, when we unwind at night, our body can actually benefit from a replenishing later healthy meal, delivering a better absorbition nutrients to your body, prior to your 7-8 hours of ‘uninterrupted’ recovery time (i.e. sleep with less stressers and demands from your system or digestive processes).

 

2. Food and Calories Don’t Know How to Tell Time. It’s the total amount and quality of food you are eating, not the time of day or night, that determines the ‘feared’ weight gain many associate late night eating with. Your body will digest food normally at say, midnight, the same way it does at 8 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m. In addition, for straight up health reasons, reasons, the time you eat doesn’t seem to have much impact at all on your health either, unless you have specific conditions (such as diabetes or adrenal fatigue, in which case, you tend to need more frequent, small meals throughout the day).

 

 

3. Can Help You Break Up with Food Rules. Simply put, eating later at night on occasion and experiencing the fact that…bad things don’t happen…can help you break up with food rules that you’ve kept for quite some time because…it’s ‘what you are supposed to do’, or ‘if you don’t then…XYZ’…Ultimatums. The more I started listening to my body (i.e. it was 10 p.m. and I was hungry gosh darn it)—instead of the rules on paper (i.e. ‘no eating after 8 p.m.’)—the more I began to trust my body (and myself)—in various areas. From rules around meal timing, to the ‘perfect’ foods to eat and when (i.e. ‘I can only have fruit alone’, or ‘Carbs are bad after noon’, etc.), to pre- and post-workout fuel (i.e. ’must have a protein shake within 30-minutes after training’)…you and I were not meant to be bound to rules around food. We were called to be free with food and meant to nourish our bodies with real, whole foods our bodies are innately wired to process and thrive upon.

 

The bottom line: Eating a healthy meal or snack later (protein, fat and/or veggies) in the evening will not promote a dramatic spike in insulin, fat storage, weight gain, poor recovery or ‘weakness’ for ‘giving up’ a rule or belief you had about food timing. Listen to your body, and your body will thank you—feeding it throughout the day when it’s hungry and/or needs energy.

 

Disclaimer: I often work with many clients who struggle with disordered eating or binge eating. This blog is not intended to ‘mess up’ your relationship with food even more. If anything, the ability to eat at—any time of day—is a skill that must be re-learned by many who have become disconnected with intuitive eating (being able to listen to your body; know its cues and feed it appropriately—when it is hungry, and when it is not). By eating late at night, I am busting the myth of eating a healthy intake of the food and energy you need for the day; not necessarily snacking mindlessly or ‘giving into’ cravings in the late night hours because your mind/emotions tell you it’s what you need. There is a difference; and I would love to explore this with you further if you feel like you fall into this camp at the present. Intuitive eating can be won back and re-learned with some time and mindfulness training.  

 

 

Speaking of eating at night. This weekend, I finally hosted some friends in my new apartment space, now that I am all moved and set up. Here is my special chocolate chip cookie recipe we had for dessert (be warned: these are good!)

 

 

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Ingredients:

1 large egg

2 tablespoons melted palm shortening

1/3 cup coconut sugar

3 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup almond butter (creamy)

1/4 cup arrowroot powder (find in bulk section)

1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup dairy- and soy-free chocolate chips

 

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a baking sheet

with parchment paper. In the bowl of a stand mixer or using an electric

hand mixer, beat the egg, ghee, coconut crystals, and honey on medium

speed until smooth. Add the nutbutter, arrowroot powder, vanilla salt,

and baking soda and beat on medium speed for 15 seconds, then on high

for 15 seconds, until well incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips. Drop

spoonfuls of dough onto the baking sheet, then gently spread the dough a

bit with the back of the spoon. The dough can also be left as mounds for

more ‘soft’ cookies. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Allow to cool on a wire rack.

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