How eating at night might be good for you
Standard advice says you shouldn't eat before bed if you're trying to lose weight. But in recent years, there's been a bit of resistance to this idea with some studies coming to more balanced conclusions.
As a health coach and personal trainer, science is almost always at the core of any advice we give but in some cases like this, science can mislead us a bit. Either way, it often comes down to personal preferences and goals.
When we step back and look at the overall, long term goals of someone trying to lose weight and keep it off in a sustainable way, it often makes sense to ignore "traditional" advice regarding eating before bed.
Why the usual advice can backfire
There's several reasons why I think it's usually bad advice, unless someone just doesn't like eating too close to bed anyways.
- It's unrealistic. There simply just isn't a huge percentage of people who have the discipline/desire/willpower, at least when they're starting out, to stick to not eating past 6pm or whatever the line is.
- It's dangerous, especially in the beginning, in terms of being another opportunity for failure. Confidence is usually fragile at the start of a weight loss journey and there's going to be lots of missteps and letdowns anyways. The last thing we need is to throw in another restriction that's extremely difficult for most people to stick to.
- It sucks, and isn't very fun. There has to be a balance between our weight and our basic enjoyment of life. Many people get a small window at the end of the day to enjoy their favourite shows and eat something they like. It makes more sense to try and manage and adjust around this instead of completely eliminating it.
- There can be a social impact, as dinners on the weekends run late, going out to the movies or sharing a snack with a loved one can be tough to make work with a time restriction on them.
- With so many people skipping breakfast, it will probably actually help you feel a little more energetic in the mornings.
Considerations for late night eating
If you decide to go this route, keep a few things in mind.
- There's some unsurprising evidence, both scientific and anecdotal that it can contribute to acid reflux/heartburn etc. Be careful with portion sizes and tread lightly if things like heartburn are already an issue for you.
- Make sure you have at least 30 minutes upright in a decent posture before you lay down for the night. Setting up your bed in a slight downward position to aid with digestion might also be a consideration.
- Just because eating before bed might not cause extra weight gain in and of itself, it doesn't mean it helps or mitigates anything. Eating an entire bag of Dortitos before bed will do the same damage it would do at 4pm, so don't get carried away.
- But let's face it- we do sometimes get carried away at night, so be realistic and take a potential evening cheat into consideration during the rest of your day. Try and be disciplined with your other meals, go hard at the gym and you'll be able to make it work in a sustainable way.
- Stay away from heavy stuff that's going to be harder to digest. Things like eggs and cheese might not be the best choice. Fruit based stuff is a good choice for the fibre content.
Intuition and listening to your body can be crucial for finding the diet that works for you. If not eating at night sounds impossible and you've always struggled with it, maybe stop fighting it and try to find a way to plan around it and integrate it into your lifestyle.
Where science fails us a bit in these cases is that studies take too narrow a picture to make sense in reality. A 20 week study doesn't address how many people can keep up a change, only the benefits of those who stick to it. When faced with the reality that almost everyone enjoys eating late at night, the whole thing falls apart. The answers lie in making something like eating before bed work as part of your life in a healthy, sustainable way.
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Cooper Health Coaching is a personal training and health coaching service located in Vancouver, B.C. providing in-person and online coaching for clients locally and across North America. Founder Geoff Cooper is certified as both a Health Coach and Personal Trainer through the American Council on Exercise (ACE). To get in touch, click here.