It’s kinda late…but you’re kinda hungry. At this point, which is the healthier option—eating before bed or skipping dinner altogether?
We've all heard the warnings over the years: Your metabolism goes on strike overnight, so you shouldn't eat too close to bedtime or that food will sit in your stomach like a rock (at least until it migrates elsewhere on your body and refuses to budge). And yet I’ve done it. You probably have too. So, how bad is it to eat right before bed? And is it smarter to skip a meal altogether if you miss that dinnertime window? Here's what the experts have to say.
1. Honor your hunger.
It is important to recognize your body’s cues and eat—even if it’s right before bed, says Erin Jennings, MS, RD, CSO, CDN, a registered dietitian at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, NY. “Your body is perfectly capable of digesting and absorbing your food at any hour of the day,” she promises. The problem with ignoring your hunger, says Jennings, is that it can lead to worse habits and possibly a disordered relationship with food—like a tendency to overeat at other times of day, or negative emotions relating to food.
2. But choose your late-night meal carefully.
Most of us don’t want to gain weight, and we don’t want a late night meal to sabotage all our hard work. According to a report published in the journal Nutrients, the nutritional content of your meal matters way more than what time you dig in. Late night isn't the time to tuck into a burger and fries or a spicy burrito. “Large portions of high fat or a super spicy meal right before bed could aggravate acid reflux or indigestion,” says Jennings. Choose a lighter meal, such as lentil soup, a simple sandwich, or even a smoothie to give you what you need, and steer clear of foods that are high in carbs and sugar which might slow down your body’s ability to burn fat and build muscle.
3. Factor in your health risks.
If you have Type I diabetes or glycogen storage disease, skipping your evening meal could be dangerous for your health and lead to nocturnal hypoglycemia. On the other hand, those dealing with obesity may benefit from skipping dinner. A 2016 study shows that the timing of meals during the day does affect weight loss. In a statement, lead researcher Courtney Peterson, PhD explained, “Eating only during a much smaller window of time (8 a.m. to 2 p.m.) than people are typically used to may help with weight loss, specifically by increasing our body’s ability to burn fat and protein.”
The bottom line: Rather than punishing yourself by skipping dinner, opt for something small and protein-rich if you plan on eating dinner before bed.