The Downside of Late-Night Eating

If you’re a night owl, you might be interested to know that your late-night eating habits could impact your health — and not in a good way. Pretty much everyone at one point or another has had a late dinner or indulged in some snacking while watching television or catching up on the day’s work. Some people don’t sleep well at night and may turn to food to try to help them catch some shut-eye. While staying up until the wee hours and noshing may be a routine for you, it might be time to take a second look at these habits that perhaps aren’t so healthy.

Eating late at night:

Can affect your weight. Contrary to popular belief, eating late at night doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll gain weight. What dictates weight gain is how many calories you consume over the course of the entire day, not necessarily when you consume those calories. However, you could end up gaining weight based on the types of foods you may be reaching for as you catch up on Game of Thrones. Potato chips, cheese and crackers, ice cream, cookies… all of these are calorie-laden treats that are surefire ways to pack on the pounds compared to snacks that you might choose during the day: fruit, yogurt, nuts, etc. In addition, it’s easy to go overboard with food portions at night, especially when you get caught up in television or work. Mindless eating kicks in and before you know it, you’ve polished off that bag of Doritos.

Can impact your blood sugars. What and how much you eat can directly affect your blood sugars both overnight and the next morning, especially if your snack choices are mostly carbohydrate foods, like crackers, chips, or fruit. Your diabetes medicine may not completely “cover” excessive eating at night and you may be unpleasantly surprised the next morning when you check your blood sugar and find that it’s higher than desired. There are ways to prevent those morning high readings: Choose lower-carb snacks, such as nuts, lower-fat cheese, raw veggies, or a hard-boiled egg, for example. Some carbohydrate may be OK to eat, such as 15–20 grams-worth (a small piece of fruit or 6 ounces of light-style yogurt, for instance). Otherwise, if you prefer to eat later at night, talk with your doctor about adjusting your medication to better handle late-night eating.

Might raise the risk of breast cancer. A new study published in the journal Cancer, Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention shows that nighttime eating may raise the risk of breast cancer, as well as Type 2 diabetes[1]. The authors of the study found that fasting overnight is necessary for overall health and helps the body metabolism work in sync with the body’s sleep-wake cycles. In this study, for every three extra hours of fasting at night, women were 20% less likely to have high blood sugars and a lower risk of illness. Previous research has shown that women with Type 2 diabetes have a 23% higher risk of getting breast cancer; night-shift workers also have a higher risk of breast cancer. Of course, this is a single study, so more work needs to be done in this area. However, it’s certainly food for thought, especially if you’re at risk for getting Type 2 diabetes or breast cancer.

Raises the risk for acid reflux. There’s no surprise here: Chowing down after everyone else has gone to bed may seem like a good idea, but there’s a price to pay: heartburn. Lying down after eating (at any time of the day or night) can cause acid from the stomach to “backwash” into the esophagus, causing pain, burning, and shortness of breath. Continued episodes of heartburn may indicate gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, which, if not treated, can lead to further problems over time. If you do eat at night, choose lower-fat, nonacidic foods, watch your portions, and allow at least two hours to pass before lying down.

Can affect learning and memory. A study done with mice who were fed when they should have been sleeping showed that they had extreme difficulty in remembering what they had previously learned; they also had trouble with object recognition. Scientists believe the same issues can occur in humans, and it’s based on — again — the disruption of the sleep-wake cycle. Once your internal clock gets messed up, a whole host of problems, including learning and memory troubles, can set in.

Tips to deal with midnight munching
• Review your schedule and see if you can find a way to get to bed earlier. Consider getting up earlier instead of staying up late.

• Distract yourself. If you’re grabbing something to eat because of boredom, go for a walk, read a book, take a bath or better yet…go to bed.

• Choose healthier, lower-fat snacks. Try to keep fatty, tempting snacks out of sight (or don’t buy them at all).

• If you must eat a late meal or snack, eat it only in the kitchen or dining room, not while working on the computer or watching television.

• Don’t skimp on calories earlier in the day. Skipping breakfast and grabbing only a salad for lunch are guarantees that you’ll overeat at night.

• Eat plenty of protein and fiber at dinner. Both of these nutrients can fill you up so that you may be less likely to eat later in the evening.

After dealing with diabetes day in and day out, you may be tempted to let certain tasks slide. Bookmark Diabetes Self-Management[2] and tune in tomorrow to find out what questions diabetes veteran Martha Zimmer recommends asking yourself to ensure you’re staying on track.

  1. Type 2 diabetes:
  2. Diabetes Self-Management:

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Amy Campbell: Amy Campbell is the author of Staying Healthy with Diabetes: Nutrition and Meal Planning and a frequent contributor to Diabetes Self-Management and Diabetes & You. She has co-authored several books, including the The Joslin Guide to Diabetes and the American Diabetes Association’s 16 Myths of a “Diabetic Diet,” for which she received a Will Solimene Award of Excellence in Medical Communication and a National Health Information Award in 2000. Amy also developed menus for Fit Not Fat at Forty Plus and co-authored Eat Carbs, Lose Weight with fitness expert Denise Austin. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in nutrition from Simmons College and a master’s degree in nutrition education from Boston University. In addition to being a Registered Dietitian, she is a Certified Diabetes Educator and a member of the American Dietetic Association, the American Diabetes Association, and the American Association of Diabetes Educators. Amy was formerly a Diabetes and Nutrition Educator at Joslin Diabetes Center, where she was responsible for the development, implementation, and evaluation of disease management programs, including clinical guideline and educational material development, and the development, testing, and implementation of disease management applications. She is currently the Director of Clinical Education Content Development and Training at Good Measures. Amy has developed and conducted training sessions for various disease and case management programs and is a frequent presenter at disease management events.

Disclaimer of Medical Advice: Statements and opinions expressed on this Web site are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the publishers or advertisers. The information, which comes from qualified medical writers, does not constitute medical advice or recommendation of any kind, and you should not rely on any information contained in such posts or comments to replace consultations with your qualified health care professionals to meet your individual needs.