You’ve probably heard it a time or two: It’s bad to eat before bed. But is this weight loss myth true or false?
It turns out when you eat can make a difference when it comes to reaching your weight loss goals. But what that looks like can be different for everyone. We sat down with Jenny Craig’s Registered Dietitian, Briana Rodriquez, to reveal the truth about whether or not eating before bed is bad.
Eating with your circadian rhythm
Before we get into noshing late at night, it helps to understand how your body processes food, and when it metabolizes it best. Enter, your circadian rhythm.
Your body follows a 24-hour internal clock known as your circadian rhythm. This rhythm aligns with the sun and the moon. It’s why you’re most alert in the day and start to get sleepy at night.
Aligning your meals with this rhythm is optimal and here’s why: Your body needs energy — calories from the food you eat — to fuel all of your activities throughout the day. During this time, your metabolism is functioning at its best. When your body begins to wind down at night, preparing for sleep, it doesn’t need as much energy as it did during the day.
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By taking a break from digesting food in the evening, you’re allowing your body to rejuvenate and focus on other functions. You’re also working naturally to support your metabolism.
It’s one of the reasons intermittent fasting — taking a mindful pause from the consumption of food and caloric beverages over a period of time — has become such a popular weight loss strategy.
Interested to give intermittent fasting a try? Learn more with our Intermittent Fasting Guide for Beginners.
Is eating before bed “bad”?
Let’s be real: Almost everyone has eaten before bed at some point. Maybe it was the only time you could fit dinner into your day, or perhaps you attended a late dinner with friends — life happens!
If you find yourself eating before bed, it’s not the end of the world, Rodriquez says. It’s all about practicing healthy habits most of the time.
She suggests dropping the labels “good” and “bad” from our vocabulary when it comes to food and our habits. “Eating right before best isn’t necessarily ‘bad’,” Rodriquez states, “especially if you’re hungry!”
“Practice habits that support your goals and help you feel your best. Enjoying foods you love in moderation, eating plenty of fruits and veggies, drinking enough water, and feeling good when you tuck in for the night should be your focus,” she says.
3 reasons to avoid eating before bed
There are a few reasons why it might be beneficial to avoid eating before bed. Here are three.
1. You might get indigestion.
If you’ve ever felt nauseous, had an upset stomach or experienced acid reflux, you know the unpleasant feeling. Eating before bed can impact your gastrointestinal (GI) tract for a variety of reasons.
The most obvious is that eating right before bed works against gravity. When you eat during the day, your food makes its way through your digestive system relatively easily. When you lie down immediately after eating, you might have trouble keeping food down.
There’s also a valve between your throat and your stomach called the lower esophageal sphincter. This valve usually lets food through and then closes, however, it can become weakened or relaxed when it shouldn’t, according to the National Institutes of Health. That’s when digestive fluids can come back up, leading to acid reflux or heartburn. Eating a large meal and immediately lying down can put pressure on the valve, so if you do eat something before bed, try to make it on the lighter side.
2. You might gain weight.
While research is mixed, there is evidence that eating late at night can contribute to weight gain. One study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that individuals who ate at night consumed more calories than those who did not.2 And the researchers found that the extra calories were eaten at night — not during the day. What’s more, over the course of almost 2 years, the late-night eaters gained significantly more weight — almost 14 pounds — than non-late-night eaters who gained almost 4 pounds.2
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Another small study published in the Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that individuals who ate dinner at 10 p.m., compared to those who at dinner at 6 p.m. had higher blood sugar levels and burned less fat overnight.3 Both groups ate the same dinner and went to bed at the same time at 11 p.m. The researchers note that because the study was conducted on healthy individuals, the results could be more striking in overweight or obese individuals.3
More research is needed to conclude eating late at night causes weight gain. There are also other factors at play here, Rodriquez notes. “What someone chooses to eat at night matters when it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance,” she says. “If you’re choosing cookies over a piece of whole fruit, you’re likely going to consume more calories, sugar and fat.” While there is certainly nothing wrong with enjoying a cookie now and again, eating unhealthy foods regularly can impact your health goals.
3. You might not sleep as well.
Certain foods can wreak havoc on a restful night’s sleep — especially eaten right before bed. Rodriquez advises avoiding the following foods right before you turn in for the night:
“Caffeine is a stimulant, so it can keep you from feeling drowsy at night,” Rodriquez says. Try to avoid drinking caffeinated beverages 4-6 hours before bed. Instead, opt for a caffeine-free herbal tea that can help you unwind.
Foods that pack the heat are best avoided before bed because they can cause heartburn and indigestion. One small study even found spicy foods might cause your body temperature to rise during your first cycle of sleep.
“All fats are not created equal,” Rodriquez states. “Foods like salmon, avocado, nuts and olive oil are rich in unsaturated fats that when eaten in moderate amounts, are excellent for your health. On the other hand, trans fats and saturated fats should be avoided or limited whenever possible.” Rodriquez recommends avoiding fried foods or really rich foods at night. Instead, opt for a plate with lean protein, lots of non-starchy vegetables, some whole grains and a little bit of unsaturated fat (think: grilled chicken, asparagus, and quinoa with a drizzle of olive oil.)
It’s well documented that boozy drinks might make you feel sleepy, but they can disrupt your slumber, Rodriquez says. Plus, alcoholic drinks are typically packed with empty calories, which won’t help your weight loss aspirations. Instead, enjoy sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea or low-sugar kombucha.
What if I’m hungry before bed?
If your stomach is rumbling before bed, you should eat! “Recognizing your true hunger cues is important,” Rodriquez emphasizes. “However, many of us mistake thirst for hunger at night. Drink a glass of water or cup of tea and wait 15 minutes. You might find that you’re not hungry after all.”
If you are hungry, and you’ve already eaten dinner, Rodriquez suggests eating a protein or fiber-packed snack, around 200 calories.
Her top picks include a tablespoon of nut butter with apple slices, a cup of tea with 2 cups of air-popped popcorn or a serving of nonfat plain Greek yogurt with almond silvers sprinkled on top.
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Check out the 4 worst foods to eat before bed — and our top alternative picks.
The bottom line
Eating before bed isn’t necessarily “bad,” but avoiding it might be one of the easiest things you can do to get better sleep, support your weight loss goals and feel your best.
Are you ready to lose weight and start eating well? Jenny Craig can help. View our flexible healthy meal plans and get started today!
This article is based on scientific research and/or other scientific articles and was written by an experienced health and lifestyle contributor and fact-checked by Briana Rodriquez, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at Jenny Craig.
Our goal at Jenny Craig is to provide the most up-to-date and objective information on health-related topics, so our readers can make informed decisions based on factual content. All articles undergo an extensive review process, and depending on topic, are reviewed by a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) or Nutritionist, to ensure accuracy.
This article contains trusted sources including scientific, peer-reviewed papers. All references are hyperlinked at the end of the article to take readers directly to the source.