It’s late. You’re feeling “snacky.” Or perhaps you’re genuinely hungry and need satiety before you can fall asleep. But is it okay to eat late at night?
Late night snacking has been a controversial topic for eons — does eating late lead to weight gain? Does it disrupt restorative sleep? Is it perpetuating your crazy food cravings?
For years we’ve been told that a “calorie is a calorie is a calorie” no matter what it comes from or when it’s ingested. But this simple logic can no longer hold water with all of the knowledge we now have about nutrition’s impact on every bodily function.
Everything from fluctuations in body temperature, biochemical reactions, hormone levels, physical activity, emotional state, and individual absorption and digestion of food plays a factor into how your body will handle a late-night snack.
And the truth is, no study is going to fully clarify whether weight gain is tied more to nutrient timing or to the types and amounts of food consumed at night. What will clarify whether or not you should be eating late night snacks is your response to them…
- Do you sleep more soundly with a protein-rich snack at night?
- Do you toss and turn with a tummy full of carbohydrates?
- Do you wake up feeling groggy after too many sweets or empty calories?
- Are you even physically hungry or just compulsively surfing the pantry because you’re still awake?
- How does your body weight respond to a late-night snack? Is it working for you or keeping you stuck?
Sleep is the only time when you’re not doing other things requiring energy. Other than the energy of staying alive, the body is primed to work on recovery, cell turnover, improving immune function and repairing and regenerating sore and damaged muscle tissue.
Understanding your own body’s needs is a big part of whether a late-night snack will help you build and repair muscle tissue during strenuous training periods or trigger higher levels of insulin and glucose in your blood that leads to fat storage over time.
Hunger and satiety are intimately tied to the energy fluctuations we experience from our normal hormonal cycles and circadian rhythms. Cortisol and adrenaline follow these natural rhythms and can trigger cravings for high-sugar and high-fat foods that seem like they’ll supply the desired energy boost, but really just end up messing with insulin and sparking a pantry raid later on.
If you find yourself nodding in recognition then I have 5 simple tips for you:
- Check in to see if you are genuinely physically hungry:
- If yes, skip to #3
- If no, read #2.
- Great, you’re not hungry. Now what?
- Tap into what you really want – are you actually tired and need to go to bed? Are you noodling on a stressful topic and would feel better writing out your frustrations on paper? Are you thirsty?
- There are endless mental, emotional, and spiritual needs we try to feed that cannot be satisfied with food. Take the time to develop a list of nourishing activities that have nothing to with food then follow as needed.
- Choose a nutrient-dense, protein-heavy snack in a small quantity:
- 2-3 Deviled Eggs
- ½ of a Protein Shake
- 2-3 slices of Chicken or Turkey & 1 ounce sharp cheese
- 1 medium banana and 1 Tablespoon of nut butter
- 2 x 2 inch square of my Cashew Carrot Cake (recipe below)
- Figure out when the kitchen is open and when it is closed:
- This simple boundary can help remind you to check in and see that you don’t really need food.
- Insert an afternoon snack instead:
- Eating a nutrient dense afternoon snack rich in healthy fats can help support your transition away from late night snacking. Check out this Super easy recipe for my Gogi Energy Bites – this might even be a great way to start the day!
Invest in yourself. Pay attention to whether a snack at night really serves your health and fitness goals – journaling is a great way to build an understanding of what you really need to thrive!
In Love & Gratitude,
PS – Here’s the recipe for my Cashew Carrot Cake – I whipped this up on a whim and it’s been a hit in our house ever since!
Cashew Carrot Cake
Prep time: 5 minutes | Bake time: 35-40 minutes | Yield: 12-16 squares
- 1 jar Life of Riley Cashew Butter (it’s already spiced …yay!)
- 2 large eggs
- ½ cup raw honey
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- ½ cup shredded carrots
- *optional ¼ cup golden raisins
- Heat oven to 325 degrees.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine cashew butter, eggs, honey, vanilla, salt, and baking soda until well incorporated. Fold in carrots and raisins, if using.
- Pour into a greased glass baking dish.
- Bake for 30-40 minutes or until set in the middle.