Close the Kitchen: Night Snacking and Weight Loss

pjs and pizzaI’ve been putting off writing this post for months. I’ve heard over and over again that snacking in the evening derails weight loss, and I knew that if I researched the concept and it was true, I would have to stop snacking after dinner. I can’t tell you to close your kitchen at 8pm and then sneak into mine at 10:30pm for chocolate pudding now, can I? (Mmm, maybe I could. My kids don’t know, so how could you?) I get hungry before bed and I like snacking, so I wanted to postpone that change as long as possible.

I finally summoned the courage to research “night snacking”…and found out some good news!

Allow me to explain.

Half of my research said yes, you should stop eating 2 hours before you go to bed. Eating before going to sleep can cause heartburn, problems with blood sugar for diabetics, prevents healing (because your body is busy digesting instead of healing while you sleep), and fuels your body at a time that it doesn’t need fuel.

The other half of my research said that was a bunch of hooey. Eating a healthy snack before bed, especially one with protein and/or a healthy fat, can help stabilize blood sugars during the night and help you sleep better because your body isn’t hungry. Weight loss is a factor of calories in vs calories out and it doesn’t matter what time of day you eat those calories, only what the total is.

So who’s right?

You tell me. Your body is different from my body is different from her body is different from…you get the idea. So here’s what I propose: Close the Kitchen, but you choose the hour and the menu. At some point we need to stop snacking and go to bed and that point should be before we throw caution and calories to the wind in a late night junk-craving frenzy. Let’s face it: most of us make very poor snacking choices close to bedtime. A morning snack? Fruits and nuts. Afternoon? Carrots and cappuccino. Bedtime? Half a tub of ice cream, a leftover burrito, and a handful of Hershey Kisses as measured with my son’s oversized Hulk gloves.

tv snackWe need to plan ahead. In my house, we eat dinner around 5pm. A bit early for some folks, but that’s when we’re home and hungry. I can’t close the kitchen at 8pm because that’s when I’m raiding it. I know I’ll be hungry, so I need to plan for it; save calories for it if I’m counting them, or decide on a healthy snack, eat it, and then close the kitchen. I don’t want to undo all the good I’ve done all day because I was caught off guard after dark.

If you’re not sure what’s best for you, do an experiment on yourself. (Sure! Wear a white lab coat, why not?) For one week, don’t eat a snack before bed. Close the Kitchen two hours before you sleep. See what kind of effect that routine has on your body. Some of you will feel thinner in the morning, will sleep better, and won’t have dirty dishes staring at you from the sink before coffee the next morning. Some of you will sleep poorly, eat an overly large breakfast to compensate for the hunger pains the night before, and end the experiment early.

The next week try eating a healthy snack half an hour before bed and see what happens. Some of you will watch one healthy snack turn into four semi-healthy snacks and a bag of chips because your will power is asleep but you are not. Some of you will sleep better, feel fuller, and end a successful day successfully with a good-for-you treat.

Once you know what’s best for your body, make it a habit. The point is not to argue about when to stop night snacking and close your kitchen, but to make a realistic plan for night snacking and stick to it. If your self control goes to bed before you do, stop snacking when your self control sleeps, no matter what time it is. Also, remember the key word we’ve been repeating: sleep. Do not overestimate the power of sleep for defeating late night cravings! A friend of mine grew up poor on a Caribbean island. His advice for night snacking? “Just go to bed.” When he was growing up, his family didn’t have enough food for snacks in the evening, so when they were hungry, they went to bed. It’s so simple, but it’s often the last thing to occur to us.

One last tip: if there is no junk food in the house, you won’t snack on junk food at 10pm when you crave it the most.  There are times I add something to my cart that I don’t normally buy and I know it will be trouble. Eventually I end up on the sofa in front of the TV at 11pm, holding the empty bag and wondering why I had such high expectations for my late evening Self Control. Self Control is a nice guy during the day, but don’t buy him chips or chocolate covered anything and don’t loan him money.

“The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” Proverbs 21:5 (NIV)

Footnotes: Eating Before Bed – What to Avoid Five Reasons Why You Should Eat Before Bed What are Benefits of Not Eating Before Bed

Images courtesy of: pizza, tv snacker


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