It’s a huge rule in diet culture: don’t eat before bed, because your body digests food slower, causing you to gain more weight. It’s so widely believed that trends like intermediate fasting (IF for short) have exploded in popularity, where people don’t eat or drink anything for a few hours before bed.
But for so many of us, snacking before bed is a nightly routine. Curling up on the couch with a bag of popcorn, a bowl of fruit or an ice cream bar just feels right. So do these snacks actually count “more” calorically if they’re consumed after 8 pm?
The Short Answer: No. The Long: But Be Careful
Here’s the skinny: there’s no real connection that science has found between eating before bed and gaining weight. Your body can walk and digest. It can talk and digest. It certainly can handle sleeping and digesting at the same time.
The idea that your metabolism slows down so drastically when you sleep that a 400 calorie snack will make more difference at 10 pm than 5 pm is silly, too. We know that ultimately, calories in, calories out is king for losing weight. Diet plans help you eat healthier, and feel better, but the total goal number is what matters.
What people don’t consider is their total calories when they claim eating late makes them gain weight. If you’re eating a normal calorie day and adding a late-night snack on top of that, those calories are going to add up.
In addition, a lot of people will eat a late, big meal at night and then 7 hours later when they wake up, eat another large meal for breakfast. Your stomach probably isn’t finished digesting that last meal, and you’re eating breakfast because it’s routine.
If you overeat, your stomach becomes accustomed to consuming that much. You start to ‘need’ a larger meal, or a snack. And that is where it gets dangerous because it becomes very easy to overeat.
Eating Late Can Cause Other Issues
Just because it isn’t causing you to pack on the pounds doesn’t mean that there aren’t negative effects of eating too late in the evening.
Studies have found a connection between indigestion, heartburn, and eating later at night. When you eat and digest sitting or standing, gravity sort of ‘helps’ push everything where it needs to be.
However, when you eat and immediately lay down, gravity isn’t there to help. Your body is doing more work, and it can cause backflow. A little bit of heartburn is normal for some people, but if you find yourself experiencing heartburn on the regular in the evenings, try cutting down on the late-night food – this could be a key reason why.
On the whole? Eating late isn’t inherently bad, as long as it fits into your healthy diet and lifestyle. Use common sense, listen to your body, and you’re perfectly OK with your evening snack routine!