How Bad is Late-night Snacking?

Don't fall into the trap of snacking before bed - practice better eating habits and avoid this unhealthy routine

Make sure to eat enough during the day to avoid any late-night snacking urges

Eating food late at night is a bad habit. Dietician Patricia Chuey breaks down the reasons we snack before bed, and the negative consequences of doing so

It’s late in the evening at the end of another hectic workday, and although you’ve had dinner, you’re now hungry and craving a snack – a craving too often satisfied by cookies, potato chips and other unhealthy food choices.

Dietitian Patricia Chuey talks about nighttime eating and offers her advice on easy approaches to help stave off nighttime hunger.

Late-night Snacking Facts

Q: When we talk about “problematic” nighttime eating, what exactly are we talking about?

A: We’re talking about steady snacking that typically begins shortly after dinner and continues until bedtime. This is where you grab handfuls of several not-very-nutritious snacks instead of eating a single moderate portion of a healthy snack an hour or more before bedtime.

Q: Is eating in the evening really a problem, or is it more what and how much we eat?

A: For the most part, there’s no problem eating a healthy evening snack if you eat a moderate portion of healthy food and you eat it an hour or more before going to bed. In fact, for a person with poor morning blood sugar levels, eating something like yogurt or a small bowl of good-quality cereal before bed is actually a good thing. However, metabolically, it makes sense for us to eat during the day when we are the most active and expending the most calories – not when we’re winding down the day.

Q: What are some of the main reasons people eat (and perhaps overeat) in the evening?

A: Missing breakfast is a big one, because you’re starting out with a calorie deficit right when your body needs fuel. Going too long without eating throughout the day is also a big one. Not drinking enough, comfort eating in response to stress and exposure to all those tempting food advertisements on TV can all cause us to eat at night, and even when we’re not actually hungry.

Q: What kinds of foods are the worst offenders for unhealthy nighttime eating?

A: The usual suspects – foods that offer few nutrients yet are high in calories, salt and fat, like potato chips, candy, chocolate, pop or high-sugar foods, fast food, low-fibre crackers or other starchy foods.

Q: What are some of the health implications for people who routinely eat (especially the wrong foods) in the evening?

A: The biggest thing is unwanted weight gain, or trouble losing weight despite working very hard at it during the day. People can also experience nausea or indigestion from going to bed with a full stomach, or even a lack of appetite in the morning. When you’re not hungry for breakfast because you’re still full from snacking the evening before, you miss out on key nutrients needed for good health.

Q: So what are some of the things people can do to help ensure they’re not ravenous at nighttime?

A: Preventing nighttime snacking begins when you open your eyes in the morning. Begin every day with a nutritious breakfast that includes a little protein as protein helps stimulate mental alertness, and never let more than four hours pass without eating a healthy meal or snack. Also, stay hydrated and manage your stress. And avoid stocking unhealthy snacks. What you don’t have, you can’t eat.

Q: There are going to be times when you’re hungry at night. What are some healthy food choices for satisfying hunger without causing problems?

A: Carbohydrate-rich foods have a calming, relaxing effect because they increase levels of the feel-good hormone serotonin. That’s why yogurt, toast or cereal with milk are good evening snacks. Warm applesauce, popcorn, vegetables with dip or even a moderate portion of leftover dinner are other good choices.

Patricia Chuey, RD – Patricia is a veteran Canadian dietitian, cookbook author and media spokesperson as well as an advisor and regular contributor to Wellness Matters. Her passion is to promote healthy living and make healthy eating make sense.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.