I am asked this question by clients time and time again, is it okay for me to eat at night?
My most frequent answer? That depends on what it is you plan to eat and also what you ate throughout the day.
It is not inherently bad to eat food late at night, but whether or not it is the best choice for you will depend on your body, your goals and what you have eaten throughout the rest of the day.
A healthy and balanced day of eating is determined by your eating habits on the whole and not necessarily what you eat between the hours of 7 pm and whenever you go to sleep.
When does it make sense to eat at night?
- When you are truly hungry: If you are someone who generally has had success following their hunger cues, it makes no sense to deny those cues just because the sun is down. If you are truly hungry, it should not matter what time it is , it almost always makes sense to have a healthy meal or snack. However, If you are regularly starving in the evening, this could be a reflection of insufficient intake of healthy, satiating foods throughout the day.
- When you know you have not had enough to eat throughout the day:Maybe your hunger cues aren’t quite that sharp, but you are savvy enough to know that you have not enjoyed a sufficient or balanced day of eating. In such cases, especially for people who are very busy during the day, it makes all the sense in the world to fill in any calorie or nutrient gaps in your diet in the evening ( in a healthy, balanced way of course!).
- When you are selecting healthy lower calorie options: Unless you are really trying to manage your caloric intake, selecting healthy low-calorie options like fruit or yogurt is a sound idea any time of the day.
When it is less okay to eat at night
- When you are not truly hungry:If you are not hungry, it is probably a sign from your body that you have consumed enough food throughout the day. In such cases, it would probably be unwise to consume food at night “just for the sake of it”. This is an extraordinarily common phenomena that I see in my clients who just want something to nibble on while watching TV. If you fall into this category, make sure you make healthy lower calorie selections like popcorn, low fat greek yogurt or fruit and monitor the amount of these foods you are eating.
- When you know you’ve had enough/too much to eat already:In certain contexts, such as a relaxing evening, we can confuse a craving or desire for food for true hunger. In such situations, it helps to know yourself and reflect on the food choices you made that day. If you know you have probably eaten too much or just enough, but you still want to eat, try to make lower calorie healthy selections.
- When you regularly consume less healthy foods at night: If chips and chocolate are your evening go-to foods, I am much less okay with you eating at night! Of course, these foods can fit into a balanced diet, but I am always concerned when I see clients regularly turning to these foods in the evening.
Contrary to popular belief, there is nothing inherently wrong with eating at night for an otherwise healthy person. As with all other times of the day, it is always better to be selecting healthful foods at night. Although eating at night could offer an important opportunity for individuals to consume nutrients or food groups they may have missed during a busy day, it may be wise to limit the amount of food consumed if you do not truly feel hungry or know you have already consumed a sufficient amount of food that day.
Until next time
Andy De Santis RD MPH