You’ve probably heard that eating before bed can make you gain weight faster. But the truth is, your body processes food the same way no matter what time it is. How many calories you eat and how many calories you burn in exercise are the factors that determine how you gain or lose weight. Individual eating habits late at night may affect weight loss, but only in the same way that eating unhealthy at any other time would.
How Weight Gain Works
People gain weight when they take in more calories than they burn. It’s a complex process, but the basics are easy to understand. Everything our bodies do is fueled by calories, including basic bodily functions and conscious activities like exercising. When we eat more than our body is able to use, that excess energy is converted into fat stores. Later, if our bodies need more calories than we’ve consumed recently, the fat stores will be broken down and converted back to energy.
So, losing weight is as simple as eating fewer calories than your body uses each day. Since even basic bodily functions burn calories, you can lose weight without exercising, provided you restrict your food intake enough. Likewise, you can gain weight even if you do exercise regularly if you’re eating more calories than your body uses.
Makings of a Myth
Your metabolism does slow down at night, which may be one of the reasons that eating before bedtime causing weight gain became a myth. Of course, your body still carries out basic functions, including digestion, at night. Even as you sleep, your body will harvest the energy it needs from the food you’ve eaten, and will store the rest as fat.
Avoiding Bad Eating Habits
Another reason the myth of eating before bed may have spread is that people often make poor judgments about what to eat late at night. When you get hungry in the evening while watching TV or reading, it’s easy to eat junk food, or to overdo it. If you regularly have a late night snack, have some healthy options available so you’re not tempted to indulge in high calorie foods. Also remember to eat in moderation at all times, not just at night.
A mistake people often make is eating too fast. Your body has built-in mechanisms to tell you how much food you need, and when to stop eating. If you eat too fast, however, you fill yourself up before your body has a chance to realize you’ve had enough. Try eating slowly and listening to your body. Stop eating before you feel full to avoid overeating and gaining weight.
Getting Plenty of Sleep
Although eating before bed might not cause you to gain more weight, not getting enough sleep can. Sleeping well each night is an important part of resetting your energy levels for the day. If you’re sleep deprived, you may eat more food or less healthy food in an attempt to make up for the lost energy. Plus, sleep deprivation can throw your metabolism out of whack and cause you to gain weight more quickly.
You should be getting 7.5 hours or more of restful sleep. You can improve the quality of your sleep by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, avoiding caffeine in the afternoon and exercising regularly. When your sleep patterns improve, you may see weight loss as well.
While the idea that eating before bed can make you gain weight is a myth, there are important connections between eating, sleeping, and weight control. Get consistent, restful sleep, and be conscious of what you’re putting into your body. Don’t get complacent when it comes to your diet, even during your midnight snack.
by Caleb Palmquist
January 25, 2015