Make screen time your only nightly binge
There’s a pandemic, so few of us need any rationale for late-night snacking while we binge “Bridgerton.”
But evening eating may add inches to your waistline and threaten your cardiac health, according to a 2019 study by the American Heart Association.
Researchers studied the cardiovascular health of 112 women and found that those who consumed a higher proportion of their daily intake of calories in the evening were at greater risk for cardiovascular disease than women who did not. Every 1 percent increase in calories consumed after even 6 p.m. increased the likelihood of higher blood pressure and body mass index (BMI), as well as poorer long-term control of blood sugar.
And, a 2018 review of 8,153 Japanese adults age 40–54 years found that nighttime eating is a risk factor for obesity and metabolic syndrome, which can put you at risk for cardiac disease and diabetes.
Going to bed too soon after a heavy meal or snack can be trouble, said Rochelle St. Onge, a clinical dietician with Cape Cod Healthcare.
“You don’t want to go to bed with a full stomach,” she said. “Our blood sugar naturally rises two hours after eating. So, your blood sugar is going to be high if you eat at night.”
A Healthy Schedule
What’s a healthy schedule for eating? Your exact schedule is less important than making sure you don’t skip meals and that late-night snacking is mostly confined to healthy options, she said.
“Those cravings definitely do happen sometimes, and that’s totally fine to have that bowl of ice cream once or twice a week,” she said. “The issue becomes if you start eating it right out of the container and you’re eating half a pint.”
What can you do to avoid those nightly cravings? The most important thing is to make sure you’re not skipping meals or going more than four or five hours without a meal or healthy snack, she said.
“Sometimes at night, we tend to snack a lot because we might not have been eating enough during the day and our bodies are trying to catch up because we’re finally relaxed sitting on the couch,” St. Onge said.
Here are more of her strategies to make sure the only thing you’re late-night bingeing is confined to TV:
- A healthy food day begins with breakfast. Make sure you’re eating something healthy within one to two hours of waking up. It could be something light, such as a piece of toast or cup of yogurt. Don’t wait until lunch to eat.
- Eat a well-balanced lunch. That means some sort of protein (plant or animal), as well as vegetables and a bit of fat. “It can be a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, that’s perfectly fine,” she said.
- Check in with yourself before you grab a snack. “We have to ask ourselves questions like, why am I craving this? Am I truly hungry? Do I really want a piece of chocolate or am I bored?,” St. Onge said. “It takes a lot of practice listening to what our bodies are telling us to do.”
- Dinner should also be balanced. St. Onge appreciates that this winter, many of us crave the comfort of carbs. But go for variety and balance. “Do meal planning, so you can know ahead of time what you’re going to be making for dinner that night.”
- Keep healthy nighttime snacks on hand. That could be yogurt, a bit of chocolate or a piece of fruit. Make your own cup of hot chocolate with unsweetened cocoa so you can control the amount and type of sweetener. “Some people eat a small bowl of cereal. Milk has a lot of nutrients in it that help us fall asleep,” St. Onge said. “Make sure you have options at night and not just the ice cream.”
- Do your best to get enough sleep. “Our hunger hormones are thrown off when we don’t get enough sleep,” St. Onge said.
- If you do crave something sweet, keep it moderate. Portion snacks out. Use an ice cream scoop, as opposed to getting out a spoon and opening the pint. Don’t just reach your hands into a bag of chips but pour some in a small bowl. Make sure you’re drinking plenty of water. "We do need a big bowl of ice cream once in a while,” St. Onge said, ”but most of the time it might be that we just need a couple of bites of something sweet to satisfy that craving.”