The Myths of Late Night Snacking

MAY 30, 2015


I occasionally find myself wandering to the fridge at night and opening it a half dozen times as if something new will magically appear. This is the life of a late-night grazer. Is it because I’m bored, I haven’t had a home-cooked meal in four months, or because I haven’t slept in two days while trying to finish a project for work? The truth is that all of the above can lead to eating too many calories.

Yes, calories. That word I learned in chemistry class, sitting in a 200 person seminar, trying to understand how to connect it to an insanely long math equation. I’ll let that dreadful memory vamoose and share some info that I think helps anyone understand the real deal about calories.

#1. It’s not about when you eat…necessarily. There’s a myth that eating at night causes more weight gain. It doesn’t. But let’s be real here…if I am eating late, I’m probably throwing back a pizza slice (or the whole pie). Or, it might be some chips, or a half gallon of ice cream to accompany my Real Housewives marathon. So it’s not specifically the time of day that’s adding on the extra pudge, but the impact of the types of calories consumed.

#2. There are a bunch of ways to burn it off. What you want is to maintain calorie balance, meaning you’re not losing weight but you’re not gaining either. To maintain, the amount of calories you chomp on should equal the calories burned. And guess what? You burn calories just from being alive. That might be the best news I’ve shared all day. I get my dance on or sweat it out at spin class to shed even more calories.

So why has “late night eating” been deemed a culprit of weight gain? Well, if I set aside the occasional late night fiesta (like throwing back a few not-so-skinny margaritas), I have to admit something. When I let myself get ravenous during the day, it leads to overeating at night. I used to scurry home from work, nearly starving by the time I desperately unbolted the door. Then, I would find nothing but week-old takeout in the fridge. My hangry alter-ego would kick in and I would find myself scrambling to toss something together, downing half the ingredients in the process. By the time I realized how many snacks I’d gobbled, emotions would be running wild and a binge would be calling my name. Sound familiar? Fear not! I made a few easy changes that you can too. Key ways to avoiding these bikini-altering situations are:

1. Preparing meals in advance
2. Having a light snack on your way home from work
3. Eating mindfully, not multitasking while watching TV.

Fighting the late night cravings can be difficult. If you find yourself battling the snack drawer, try going for a walk, calling a friend, or reading a book for a distraction. If you feel your stomach caving in, go for a healthful snack like crunchy carrots or cheddar rice cakes. Remember, all late night snacks are not created equal.

Sarah Romotsky is a Registered Dietitian and is the Director of Health & Wellness at the International Food Information Council (IFIC) Foundation in Washington DC.  IFIC Foundation’s purpose is to bridge the gap between science and communications by collecting and disseminating scientific information on food safety, nutrition, and health and by working with an extensive roster of scientific experts and through partnerships to help translate research into understandable and useful information for opinion leaders and ultimately, consumers.

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