The Perfect Storm: Navigating Nighttime Eating Challenges

12.06.2011 / Blog Posts Health and Wellness

AP Image

Redskins nutritionist Jane Jakubczak answers one of your questions this week- tackling the myth behind nighttime eating. Be sure to leave your own nutrition questions in the comments sections below!

“I work nights and it is hard trying to figure out how to eat now. When I get up around 9 p.m. I will usually eat cereal or something like that and mid-way a sandwich or something like that. In the morning is when I would have my dinner; meat, potatoes..... I guess you would say heavy food. I usually stay up about 4 hours after eating and then go to bed. Is there a better way to combine foods so the pounds don't start to creep back on me.”

- WOW Member

Thank you for posting a very “timely” question (check these blog comments for my answer to this reader's concern with "late shift" eating patterns). Your situation is a perfect platform to tackle the third and final principle of Healthy Eating! In case you missed the first two, click here to review them.

I’d like to address two issues within the topic of timing:

1) “The Rule” that claims eating at night is “BAD”
2) The perception that to eat every three to four hours takes too much time and effort

The Myth: “Eating at Night will make me FAT.”
The Truth: Eating more calories than our body needs will make us FAT, not the time of day we eat those calories.

Like any longstanding myth, it is often based on a small nugget of truth. Nighttime is a high-risk time for eating more calories than our body needs. Think about it, evenings are a “perfect storm” for overindulging because:

- Many people don’t take the time to eat regularly throughout the day and enter this high-risk time of day overly hungry. (visit my portion control blog for why allowing yourself to get too hungry puts you at risk.

- It may be the first time we are “letting down” from a hectic day and feel we deserve a reward.

- We are tired and our body is begging for energy. Remember last week’s blog? This equates to sugar and fat cravings.

- We are stressed and carbohydrate rich foods affect our brain chemistry, particularly serotonin levels – the “calming chemical.”

Plop all these risk factors in front of a TV running multiple food commercials (remember we are visual eaters) and before you know it you are headed for the ice cream, chips or cookies…

This “perfect storm” is the reason we tend to gain weight with late night eating, not the clock.

So what can we do to manage all these “tendencies” without sabotaging our weight management efforts? I would like to share some strategies that my clients have found helpful and encourage our WOW readers to share their techniques in the comment box below.

- “The Reward”: YOU absolutely deserve a reward for doing all you do during your day! It is important to find a non-food reward to satisfy this need; 30 minutes to surf the web, read your favorite magazine, watch your favorite TV show or find a hobby you enjoy. Any activity you do for the pure enjoyment of it can provide a sense of reward for a hard days work.

- “Overly Tired”: Our body obtains energy from two places: sleep and food. Consider climbing into bed earlier (my personal favorite strategy.) If you find you have too much to get done in the evening to go to bed on time, visit for tips on time management.

- “Stress Management”: Stress builds over the course of the day. A brain chemical called serotonin, gives us a calming effect. Guess what type of food increases the level of serotonin? Yup! Carbohydrates and sugar! We may be “self-medicating” when we reach for the chips and cookies at night. Learn more  about the role of serotonin and eating

Most of us never learned healthy stress management techniques so we turn to food to do the job. Enjoying comfort food occasionally is not a problem, but if we are doing this day after day it will affect our weight and eventually our health. Read more on finding non-food ways to manage stress.

- “Hunger Build-Up”: As we fly through our busy day we may not FEEL our hunger because the adrenaline of the day suppresses the hunger signal. However, the hunger chemicals are building behind the scenes, waiting for the “all clear” to attack. Add this to our body’s natural increase of galanin at night and we are fighting a tough battle.

Galanin is a brain chemical that jumps into action when your body perceives fat stores are running low. This chemical naturally increases in the evening as a survival mechanism to ensure we have enough calories to last through the night.

The bottom line - consuming more calories than your body uses, over a period of time, is what causes weight gain not the time of day you consume these extra calories. However, nighttime is the most difficult time of day to manage calories. I hope by understanding the “storm” your body is up against, you can create strategies to fight back!

This week’s goal: make a list of non-food rewards and stress management techniques. Pick several of them to “test drive” this week. You will find some work and some don’t. Remember, this is a process and learning what doesn’t work is just as important as finding what does.

Next week we will discuss easy, efficient ways to refuel your body every three to four hours to avoid the “overly hungry” trigger.

Make it a healthy week!
- Jane

This post was sparked by a WOW member's question that was left on the blog! Have your own nutrition questions or comments for Jane? Leave them below and she will try to answer them in upcoming posts!

comments powered by Disqus

It's our turn.

Join the 134321 members

Refer a friend now

WOW is better with friends. So get yours to join. And share every Burgundy and Gold moment.

* required field

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27
April 28, 2018 10:30 AM Redskins Draft Day Dash
April 28, 2018 11:00 AM WOW Draft Party and Scavenger Hunt
29 30 1 2 3 4 5