The Surprising Side Effect Of Eating Late At Night

The temptation to eat late at night, whether you're having a late dinner or a midnight snack, can be hard to ignore. But if you're trying to lose weight or even simply gain control of your appetite and cravings, that midnight snack could have negative consequences, from increased caloric intake overall, to sharper hunger pangs in the morning, to poor sleep.

The calories you consume late at night are more likely to be stored as fat, since you're not immediately burning them as energy (via the Washington Post). Nighttime eaters reportedly eat more calories overall (via Healthline). This is likely because most people snacking late at night aren't reaching for a salad with a healthy protein, they're opting for ultra-processed junk food, which can bring calorie counts much higher than if you indulged in a late night smoothie. 

Not only are you adding to your overall caloric intake for the day by having your late night snack, you're also setting yourself up to eat more the next day. People who eat late night snacks tend to wake up hungrier and eat more at breakfast, thanks to the hormonal cascade that begins when you snack. So even though you're eating more calories, you're hungrier as a result (via LIVESTRONG).

What if you can't stop snacking late at night?

First, you may want to assess why you're eating at night: Are you bored, are you still hungry, or are you stressed? Figuring out the reason you tend to snack late can help you break the habit, or at least tweak it to be healthier. If you're actually hungry, you may need to eat more throughout the day rather than waiting until it's bedtime (via Healthline). If you love eating while you watch a few TV shows after dinner, WebMD's nutritional director, registered dietitian Kathleen Zelman, recommends planning those snack calories into your daily intake, keeping pre-portioned snack options on hand, and paying attention to your food as you eat. 

Generally, eating most of your calories before 8:00 p.m. is ideal, but if you struggle to stop eating at night, there are ways to lessen the harmful impacts. Having a small (150-calorie) protein shake before bed can actually improve muscle recovery, boost metabolism, and even decrease appetite in the morning (via the Washington Post).