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When and how to stop eating at night

It can have a negative impact on your health (and waistline)

A woman licking a spoon while holding a bowl and sitting on the floor in front of an open fridge
A woman licking a spoon while holding a bowl and sitting on the floor in front of an open fridge

Picture this: you’re curled up on the couch binge-watching Game of Thrones when all of a sudden, you hit the pause button and find yourself face first in the fridge. Winter is coming, and so are your late-night cravings.

It’s not a hunger pang, because you’ve just finished a fulfilling dinner – it just feels like something is missing. And despite eating healthily all day, you’re now back on the couch, three rows into a block of choc with no signs of slowing down.

Know the feeling? While there’s nothing wrong with the occasional snack after dark, regularly eating late at night or too close to your bedtime can have a negative impact on your health (and your waistline).

The effect of eating at night

To understand the full impact of those late night snacks, you need to know what’s happening in your body.

When you eat, the food you consume is converted into energy thanks to your metabolism. During this complex chemical process, calories are combined with oxygen to release the energy your body needs to function. Food goes in, chemical processes happen, energy is created.

Our metabolism is in full swing when we’re most active, which is generally during the day. And, just like our minds, our metabolism needs a rest from time to time. This rest period usually occurs when we’re less active, i.e. when we’re winding down before bed.

So, if we eat too close to bedtime (cue those late night snacks), our bodies don’t have the correct energy needed to digest the food. Generally, eating at this time means you’re more likely to store calories as fat rather than burn them as energy. That’s bad news if you’ve got a sweet tooth as your body won’t be able to work as hard to break the sugar down; likewise, with salty snacks and carbs.

If you think you might have an addiction to the sweet stuff, check out Jessica Sepel's guide to combatting sugar cravings.

A young man raises his eyebrows as he bites into a piece of pizza

When should you stop eating at night?

There’s no one rule for when you should stop eating at night, but as a general guide you should have your last meal between one and three hours before you go to sleep. This gives your body time to digest your food using the energy it has left before it rests and avoids your body storing the food as fat. However, if you get home just before you’re meant to go to sleep and your body is crying out for your evening meal, don’t stress – it’s OK to have something light to eat.

Tips to stop eating at night

We get it: knowing something is one thing, but putting it into practice is another thing entirely. The easiest way to break bad patterns and habits is by forming new ones, so we’ve come up with a few ways to help you combat those late-night cravings.

  • Eat regular meals: Our bodies are creatures of habit, which means eating at the same time every day helps it function best. If you find that dinner isn’t quite filling enough, introduce an afternoon meal and push your dinnertime back a bit.

  • Brush your teeth: It’s surprisingly simple; brushing your teeth is a quick way to tell your body and mind that you’re done for the night and ready for bed. The minty flavour will negatively impact the flavour of the food you’re tempted to consume. Plus, who wants to brush their teeth twice in one night?

  • Impose an achievable snacking deadline: Always going to bed at 10pm? Try having nothing to eat after 8pm. If that’s not manageable, try to stop eating by 8.30pm or 9pm for one week, then bring the deadline forward once you’re used to it.

  • If in doubt, wait it out: When you feel a craving, wait 20 minutes. Chances are, the temptation will fade in that time because your body doesn’t actually need what you’re craving.

If you’re still struggling, check out our article with even more tips on the best ways to break a bad habit. It takes a bit of practice and some serious dedication, but avoiding late night snacks is a healthy habit worth developing.