Tucking into a tasty snack in the evening is all too satisfying, whether it’s of the sweet or savoury variety. But can eating late make you put on weight? We take a look at both sides of the argument...
LATE-NIGHT EATING MAKES YOU FAT
Traditionally it’s been thought that eating a big meal before heading to bed will overload your digestive system, making it difficult for your body to process fats and sugars, leading to more of them being stored.
It can also affect sleep, which can have a knock-on effect on your overall health and wellbeing.
Dr Sally Norton, an NHS weight loss consultant surgeon (visit www.vavistalife.com), notes that: ‘There is an increasing number of studies that show how our natural circadian rhythm has a big part to play in our general health, including affecting the risk of metabolic disorders, such as diabetes or fatty liver disease, and so I suspect that eating late isn’t good for our weight control. Not to mention raising the likelihood of acid reflux, due to lying down with a full stomach. That can result in poor sleep in itself, leading to more high-calorie snacking the next day.’
LATE-NIGHT EATING DOESN’T MAKE YOU FAT
However, the advice can be contradictory, as Dr Sally also suggests that snacking late at night cannot be solely to blame for weight gain - you have to take into account calories consumed during the day too.
‘I haven’t seen too many good-quality studies showing that people who eat late at night weigh more than others if they eat the same number of calories overall.’
She explains: ‘There is certainly evidence to suggest that people who are eating late at night are heavier than those who don’t. But is that just because they eat more at other times too, so have a higher calorie intake overall? In some cases, yes.
‘Also, many studies don’t account for the fact that some people eat late at night because of shift-work or social reasons, which can leave them sleep-deprived. And if you are tired, you are more likely to reach for high fat, high sugar foods the next day. Result... weight gain! But it’s more the fault of the tiredness than the late-night eating itself.’
Additionally, if you do suffer from tiredness or difficulty sleeping, a small nutritious snack before bed can actually help you drift off, thanks to the settled feeling you get from having eaten.
You also have to remember that your body needs energy even when you’re asleep, and a pre-bedtime snack can set you up for the next day.
Snacking before bed has been found to reduce hunger pangs the following morning too.
You have to find out what works for your body. If a late night snack helps you drift off, go for it, but perhaps steer clear of a big evening meal right before donning your pyjamas, as your digestive system may struggle.
Dr Sally says: ‘My advice is to avoid over-eating before bed. It may possibly help weight-loss - but is likely to be of benefit in other ways too.’