After a hard day at work, who doesn’t like to curl up in front of the TV with a bowl of ice cream or a bag of chips?
Unfortunately, that indulgence can come at a high price. Eating before bed might increase your risk for heart disease, blood vessel disease and stroke, according to the American Heart Association.
In addition, numerous studies have found a link between eating before bedtime and a higher risk of obesity.
“Snacking before bedtime can be dangerous for people if they aren’t careful,” says Sarah Muntel, a registered dietitian and bariatric coordinator at Community Health Network in Indianapolis.
Several triggers cause people to mindlessly munch before bedtime. Some eat to relieve pent-up stress after a tough day. Others find late-night snacking relaxing.
“I know so many people who make great food choices all day long, but struggle after their evening meal,” Muntel says.
The danger of late-night snacking
As such late-night binges become a habit, they can slowly and insidiously undermine your efforts to stay healthy and in shape.
“These evening snacks can lead to hundreds of extra calories, and many times people aren’t even aware,” Muntel says.
If you tend to snack late at night, it is important to consciously try to change your bad habit.
“Look for other activities to relax and unwind,” Muntel says. “Read a book, play a card game or work on a puzzle.”
Simply changing where you spend time late at night can help you get a fresh start.
“If you always eat in front of the TV, stay away from that area,” Muntel says. “Spend time on your porch or in your bedroom.”
The Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers more tips for avoiding the temptation to snack late at night. They include:
Staying properly hydrated. Lack of hydration can increase hunger pangs. The academy suggests drinking water throughout the day equivalent to one-half of your body weight in ounces.
Not skipping meals. Eating three square meals a day can keep you from getting ravenously hungry late at night.
Keeping unhealthy foods out of house. If it takes just a short stroll through the house to reach the fudge and Pringles, your efforts to avoid pre-bedtime binging likely will fail before they even begin.
More healthful late-night snacks
If you simply cannot stand the thought of life without an evening treat, at least try to make more healthful choices when you snack.
“A planned snack is fine in the evening,” Muntel says. “Just be sure to portion it out and keep it at around 100 to 150 calories.”For example, she recommends snacking on a piece of fruit or a cheese stick, both of which will provide you with important nutrients and fiber.
“Portion out whatever you choose so you know exactly what you are eating,” Muntel says.
By contrast, try to avoid snacking out of bags and boxes – potato chips, cookies and other processed snacks.
The Chicago Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also offers several suggestions for more healthful late-light snacking. Such options include:
- 4 ounces of peach slices with cottage cheese
- 4 ounces of vanilla Greek yogurt with a mixed-in scoop of protein powder
- 2 tablespoons of almond butter spread on celery sticks
- 1/3 cup of frozen grapes or blueberries
If you want something more elaborate, the academy recommends cutting up pineapple slices, sprinkling them with cinnamon and baking at 400 degrees for 10 minutes.
Or, add a seasoning to a handful of roasted almonds and bake at 325 degrees for 30 minutes.