How Late Night Snacking Could Signal Deeper Problems

Dr. Christopher McGowan
April 21, 2021

Lots of diets and weight loss plans put emphasis on what you do and do not eat. For many of us, though, the focus should be on when you are eating rather than on exactly what goes on your plate. 

For people who have a habit of nighttime snacking, there can be many reasons to go for the calories at, or even after, bedtime, but regardless of the cause, the outcome is usually the same … a few extra pounds, or in the worst case, obesity. 

Why do I Snack at Night?

There are many reasons for nighttime snacking. Often, the reasons people are rummaging through the fridge late in the evening have little to do with actually being hungry. Everything from emotional disorders and stress to diagnosable disorders can cause excessive snacking during the evening or even overnight hours.

You might think of nighttime eating as just a bad habit, but emotional triggers are usually related to excessive calorie intake in the evenings. These can be life stresses such as work or relationships, or they can be related to more deeply seated emotional concerns. 

Eating disorders are also sometimes at play with nighttime snacking. Binge eating in particular can be related to excessive night eating, which can lead to increased food intake and the extra calories that will eventually turn into extra pounds.

Sleep disorders are yet another category of triggers for late night eating. If you are up prowling around the kitchen in the middle of the night due to trouble sleeping, you are more likely to give in to the temptation to eat. This can be compounded by the links between poor sleep and increased levels of hunger hormones in your body. 

Will I Gain Weight Faster with Late-Night Snacking?

Weight gain is linked to many factors, but snacking at night is one of the least helpful eating habits you can have if you want to lose weight. People often think of overeating as consuming too much food during meals, but any time you are taking in more calories than your body needs, you are going to be at risk of putting on more pounds. 

Nighttime snacking, though, has some serious disadvantages to merely consuming more calories during the day. Late-night snacking is often problematic due to the food choices people make. 

Rather than healthy food, people who snack at night are likely to cram down carbs or high-calorie junk food like ice cream that can send your blood sugar and insulin levels out of balance. With your body shutting down to rest for the night, your body has no way to burn off that extra glucose, and it ends up being stored as fat. 

Will I Lose Weight if I Stop Snacking at Night?

If you are a heavy nighttime eater, you will almost certainly lose weight if you can cut out the nighttime snacks. Some people consume as much as 25% of their calories in the evening hours, so curbing this habit can make a huge difference in the amount of food you take in during a given day. 

By cutting down on the amount of junk food you eat, you are going to immediately set yourself up for success, but it usually takes more than forgoing some salty snacks or a bowl of ice cream to make a lasting difference in your weight. To make lasting weight loss a reality, you will need to change not only your eating habits, but also increase your level of activity to help create the caloric deficit that is required to really drop pounds and keep them off. 

How do I Stop Nighttime Snacking?

You will need to stop the cravings and break the habits that keep you reaching for calories. Some of these can seem simple, such as pulling the plug on eating in front of the TV, or mindless eating while you scroll through social media on your phone. Breaking these habits can seem simple, but often there is a deeper level of emotional or behavioral triggers that start people grabbing for a bag of chips before bed. 

To stop snacking at night, you will need to determine the cause of your poor eating habits. Once you have found the triggers, it may take some time to break associations with old patterns and build new behaviors that can help you stay healthy. Some of the elements of this change are as simple as filling your house with healthy food rather than stocking up on junk food. Since binge eating usually takes the form of grabbing the food you have close by, only having healthy snacking options can help prevent those occasions of destroying an entire bag of chips in one sitting. 

Planning your caloric intake is one of the best plans for curbing overeating. For this to be successful, you need to make, and stick to, a plan for every calorie you are going to eat. You don’t want your plan to be so rigid and restrictive that you are more inclined to break it, but you do want to have a solid, comprehensive plan that you can stick to. Doing this can help you move from eating when you feel like it to eating healthy foods that fit your plan. 

It might surprise you to know that building a healthy eating plan is not just about telling you what not to eat. Making sure you get enough calories during the day is an essential part of not giving in to late night snacking. If your life or work situations make it hard for you to eat regular, healthy meals during the day, you are going to be more prone to hunting down calories later in the evening. 

Since emotional triggers can be such a big part of late night snacking, keeping a “mood and food” diary can be helpful in identifying triggers that might be leading you to overeat. Tracking your overall mental state and comparing it to what you are eating can make it easier to spot trends and triggers that might not be apparent otherwise. This may be the most challenging part for some people, as the emotional comfort provided by eating can often mask pain and stress that can be very difficult to resolve. Tracking down and solving the underlying issues that are driving your unhealthy eating can be a lot of work, but it will be worth it if you can start losing weight by cutting down on troublesome calories. 

If you really want to stop snacking at night, it may take more than a little will power to break out of unhealthy eating patterns. Working with a nutritionist or registered dietitian might be the secret sauce in helping you end your daily eating at dinner time.

At True You Weight Loss, our medical nutrition therapy program can be just the ticket for helping you build the patterns and make successful plans for healthy eating. Some people struggle to lose weight for years, or even find they have regained weight after having weight loss surgery to try to correct the problem. More than just a bariatric revision to reset the size of your stomach, you need to examine what patterns of behavior and forces in your life are contributing to your poor eating habits. 

If you are reaching the point where you want to break with old eating habits but are having trouble getting traction in your new life, request an appointment today with True You. Our staff of nutritionists and dietitians can help you break the habits that have led to extra pounds creeping on as the years pass.

Dr. Christopher McGowan
Dr. Christopher McGowan

Dr. Christopher McGowan, MD, a leader in endobariatrics, specializes in non-surgical obesity treatments and is triple-board-certified in Internal Medicine, Gastroenterology, and Obesity Medicine. Renowned for pioneering endoscopic sleeve gastroplasty (ESG) with over 2,000 procedures, his global influence and research contributions define him as a top expert.

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