College eating was the best. As a Freshman, living in the dorms, there was “late night”. Late night was four times a week when they opened the cafeteria from 10:30pm to 12:00am. On the menu: omelets, pizza (with ranch of course), and hot wings. Oh, and if you are looking for dessert, we did of course have soft serve ice cream. It wasn’t a wonder when the “Freshman 15” (or 25 for me) came creeping up as the year progressed. In fact, late night runs to 24hr restaurants were a near daily occurrence.
So what’s the big deal? Why the weight? Well, it’s all about timing…and content. It not only matters what you eat, but when you eat it. I’ll get a chance to dig deeper into carbs and the glycemic index, meal by meal composition and amount, but the top offender these days is what people are eating once the sun goes down.
Here’s a real high level covered by the NY Times last year.
Here’s another good read on a late-eating study.
So what’s the deal?
It’s tough to get into the specifics without touching on a bit of biochemistry. In short, when you eat and then go straight to bed you are increasing your need for your metabolism to process calories and your metabolism switches speeds and processes as you go to bed. Your brain function and the caloric needs of your body decrease at night, so adding un-needed calories, especially carbs, promotes fat storage. Late night eating is typically impulse or crave driven and is high fat/carb. So how do you fix your late night habits, especially if you are hungry?
1. Eat your dinner early. I have athletes who have trouble sleeping even though their late night eating is great. The general rule, eat the majority of your dinner as early as you can and then light snacks after.
2. If you are within 2-3 hours of bed, cut the carbs. Carbs are easily converted to glycogen (used to power cells) for ready to use fuel. BUT, when your glycogen stores are full (because you aren’t burning as much fuel late at night) then additional carbs are converted to glycogen and then directly to fat.
3. Water first. If you are hungry right before bed first drink water. Studies show that we can at times we can be confused between hunger and thirst. The need to fulfill your thirst is generally a stronger urge.
4. Fiber second. Fiber generally has no calories (which you don’t need anyways before bed) and can fill you. Try a salad with some light dressing.
5. Fats third. If you are still hungry (and being hungry wakes you up like me) then have a small amount of healthy fats from unsaturated fats. Some examples, nuts and peanut butter…. in small amounts. Fats are slowly processed and a small amount will leave you feeling full longer.