What To Eat Before Bed To Lose Weight

Traditionally, it’s believed that eating before bed causes you to put on weight, but does the evidence for this stand up to scrutiny?

Eating before bedtime has recently become a controversial topic, with claims that it can variously cause you to both put on and lose weight. Let’s take a look at what the science says about eating before bed.

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Reasons you may gain weight if you eat before bed

Weight gain is the result of an imbalance between the calories you consume and the calories you burn. If you take in more calories than you burn, you have a net positive calorie balance, resulting in weight gain. However, you should be aware that other factors can influence this balance, and eating before bed may be one of them.

The basis of the premise that you gain weight if you eat just before going to bed is that your metabolism slows down while you sleep. In theory, this would mean that if you ate exactly the same meal in the morning that you did in the evening, you would expend more calories digesting the meal in the morning versus the evening.¹ ² The end result would be that you have a higher net calorie gain from meals eaten at night.

Another study showed that meals eaten in the morning leave you feeling fuller than meals eaten in the evening. If you eat your meals earlier in the day, your total calorie intake for the 24-hour period is likely to be less than if you eat your meals at night, meaning less weight gain.³

Ghrelin is a “hunger” hormone, one of the hormones secreted by your body that makes you feel hungry. If you are stressed, your ghrelin levels rise more than usual at night. This makes it even more likely that you will overeat at night.⁴ ⁵

All of these studies suggest that if you eat a meal at night versus in the morning, not only are you more likely to eat more, but the calories you ingest are more likely to be stored as extra weight.

However, recent research has suggested that it might not always be this simple. Read on to discover how you can still enjoy your bedtime snack without gaining weight.

Can you eat at bedtime without gaining weight?

Most of the original studies looking at eating before bed were done using large, mixed-nutrient (a mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat) meals.

New data suggests that the results may be different if you eat a small, single macronutrient (e.g. only protein or carbohydrate) and nutrient-dense snack before bed. In these studies, people did not show significant weight gain when they ate before bed. They also had increased morning satiety, meaning that they felt fuller upon waking in the morning.⁶

The results were even better when exercise was thrown into the mix. Eating a small protein-based snack before bed combined with an exercise program led to increased morning satiety as well as positive effects on insulin sensitivity.⁷

In some cases, eating a small, planned snack before bed actually led to weight loss. The study that showed this compared eating a planned snack of cereal and low-fat milk with free eating before bed. When planning a snack before bed, participants ate, on average, 397 fewer calories per day. This led to an average weight loss of 0.84kg over the trial period.⁸

If you plan your snack carefully, you are less likely to overeat, while still satisfying your hunger pangs.

What to eat if you’re hungry before bed and don’t want to gain weight

So, what should you eat before bed to keep your hunger pangs at bay while still ensuring that you don’t pile on the pounds? Based on the evidence above, it’s best to eat small, nutrient-dense, single-macronutrient snacks if you’re hungry after dinner. These planned snacks will also keep you fuller overnight and keep your blood sugar levels stable.

Here are some ideas for bedtime snacks that are less likely to cause weight gain:

  • A small bowl of plain yogurt topped with berries

  • A low-fat, sugar-free protein shake

  • A handful of nuts

  • Two tablespoons of peanut or other nut butter and an apple

  • Coconut yogurt topped with a handful of nuts or berries

You can create your own bedtime snacks using the following guidelines⁹:

  1. Keep the total number of calories to around 150 kcal

  2. Your snack should mostly consist of a single macronutrient, preferably protein

  3. Include the nighttime snack in your daily calorie count

What to avoid eating before bed

Obviously, it’s best to avoid eating a huge meal just before bed. This is not just because you may end up storing the calories as fat.

Eating a large meal just before bed can lead to heartburn, which will affect the quality of your sleep. The following foods should also be avoided just before bed, as they can trigger indigestion, again affecting the quality of your sleep:¹⁰

  • High-fat foods

  • Mint

  • Citrus

  • Spicy foods

  • Chocolate

The reason that this is important is that poor, disrupted sleep has been linked to weight gain.¹¹

Should you go to bed hungry?

Although you shouldn’t eat a large meal just before bedtime, it’s probably not beneficial to go to bed hungry either.

Waking up during the night due to hunger pangs can lead to disrupted sleep and result in weight gain.¹¹ It may also mean that you wake at night ravenous and raid the fridge in desperation, which can lead to bad food choices that are high in calories.

The lowdown

It’s not whether you eat before bed that leads to weight gain or loss, but rather what you eat. If you don’t want to put on weight, avoid large meals at bedtime and try to make sure that you get a decent night’s sleep. Having a planned, small (approximately 150 kcal), protein-rich snack before bedtime is unlikely to cause you to put on weight and may even lead to weight loss.

Have you considered clinical trials for Weight management?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Weight management, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

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