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Does Late-Night Snacking Lead to Weight Gain?

By Elisa - Jenny Craig

How often do you reach for a midnight snack if you’re up late watching a movie or working? It might seem harmless enough, but regularly eating late at night can lead to a variety of problems, including weight gain and insomnia.1


We’re sharing the health effects of late-night snacking and simple ways that you can overcome your evening eating habit.

The Health Implications of Eating Late at Night

Many people eat late at night now and then. Sometimes our daily routines get interrupted due to work, travel, or taking care of the family and late night snacking or meals happen. But eating excessive calories or junk food late at night can lead to a handful of problems:


1. Weight Gain

LateNightSnacking_Chips.jpgAfter a long day, it may be tempting to resort to snack foods, such as ice cream and potato chips, but these foods are high in calories and low in nutrients. It also can be easy to eat more than the recommended serving size if you’re snacking on cookies or chips straight from the container late at night when satiety is lower. We’ve all been there – you look down and half the bag is gone! Eating these types of foods consistently can lead to an overconsumption of calories and eventually weight gain. 

Another adverse effect of eating junk food at night is feeling the need to make up for it the next day. However, this practice can contribute to weight gain for multiple reasons. First, limiting your calorie intake the next day to try and reverse excess calorie consumption the night before can lead to a cycle of eating again at night.2 Additionally, because late night snacks and meals tend to not be as nutrient dense, your body can’t always process them as quickly which can lead to indigestion.3


2. Metabolism Issues

Due to circadian rhythms, the body’s natural internal clock, our bodies are designed to consume more of our calories during the day as this is when our metabolism processes food most efficiently. When you eat well-balanced meals and healthy snacks in the daytime, you are leveraging your body’s natural circadian rhythm and optimizing your metabolism. This schedule helps keep your body functioning efficiently, and it can promote weight loss, energy, appetite control, and wellness.4 Alternatively, when you eat most of your calories at night, you can throw off this balance, which can lead to a variety of issues.


Since your body isn’t primed to process heavy meals or snacks in the evening, by consuming food late at night, you’re not adequately leveraging your metabolism. Conversely, when you restrict your food intake during the day, you may find that you are hungrier at night, which may lead to overeating during evening hours.5 Leveraging your metabolism and eating more calories when your metabolism is burning the most calories based on your circadian rhythm is the science behind Jenny Craig’s Rapid Results program that can result in losing up to 16 pounds in just 4 weeks. †


†First 4 weeks only. Avg. weight loss in study was 11.6 lbs for those who completed the program.


3.  Sleep Issues

LateNightSnacking_SleepIssues.jpgHave you ever noticed that it’s difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep after indulging in a large meal or eating certain foods? There’s a good reason for it. When you eat a big meal, your body must work hard to digest everything. Not only can this cause you to have an upset stomach, but it can also make it more difficult to get a good night’s sleep.6


Other foods that can cause sleep disruption include beverages with caffeine, including chocolate, coffee and, energy drinks, as they may keep you awake with their energy-boosting effects.7 This lack of sleep can leave you feeling groggy the next day, which may inspire you to continue the cycle of caffeine consumption.


4.  Acid Reflux & Heartburn

Have you ever felt a burning sensation in your throat after eating too much or consuming a meal high in fat? If so, you’re not alone, most people have experienced acid reflux, a condition that occurs when stomach acid rises into the esophagus after eating. A common side effect of acid reflux is heartburn, a burning sensation in your lower or middle chest.


Although it can be uncomfortable, occasional acid reflux symptoms aren’t unusual. However, if you experience these symptoms on an ongoing basis, it may be a sign of a chronic digestive disorder called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) or other esophagus problems that can lead to more serious health issues later in life.8


When you lie down to go to sleep after eating, you are more likely to experience acid reflux and other symptoms associated with GERD.9 When you overeat, or you ingest high-fat, acidic or greasy food at night, your risk of experiencing these symptoms increase even more10 and sleeping while experiencing these symptoms can be difficult.


Ways to Avoid Late-Night Snacking

Breaking the midnight snacking habit is possible. With these seven tips, you’ll learn that it’s easy and worthwhile to give up that late evening bite. 


#1. Find Out Why


If you find that you’re regularly snacking late in the evening, the first step is figuring out why. Some people end up eating late at night because they restrict their daytime food intake too much, which causes them to feel ravenous when nighttime rolls around. Eating at night may also be due to boredom, emotions, stress, or habit.


Determining if you’re actually hungry is the key to weight loss regardless of when you’re eating. Learn how to tell the difference between hunger and emotions. 


Once you discover the reason for your nighttime snacking, you can take the appropriate action to overcome the problem.


#2. Identify Challenges

LateNightSnacking_Journal.jpgYou might find it helpful to figure out what sparks your eating behavior once you determine what’s causing your late-night snacking. This could be a person, place or pattern of events. For example, perhaps your significant other loves a late-night dessert and you often indulge with them, or you enjoy a movie and popcorn at night.  Discovering what is provoking your late-night eating is especially helpful if you find that you’re eating when you are not hungry.


One of the best ways to find out what is causing your nighttime eating is to keep a food and mood journal.11 When you track your exercise and eating habits as well as your feelings you can identify patterns, which can help you take steps to stop eating late at night. If you’re a Jenny Craig member, discussing any trends you may be noticing with your consultant can help you pinpoint your challenges and help you avoid them in the future. Also, by following the Rapid Results menu plan, you can take the guesswork out of when to eat and help optimize your metabolism by leveraging your natural circadian rhythm.


#3. Establish a Routine

Think that a routine sounds boring? Having set times for eating and sleeping can help you distribute your food intake throughout the day so that you are not as hungry in the evening.


Additionally, a routine can also help you improve your sleep, which is a critical component of weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. Lack of sleep has been linked to higher calorie intake, weight problems and chronic disease.12


By getting into a regular routine of eating and sleeping, you may find that you feel well-rested and less hungry throughout the day and night.


#4. Meal Plan & Prep

LateNightSnacking_MealPrep.jpgWhile you’re setting a routine for yourself, you should also consider making meal planning a part of your life. Some people think meal planning sounds daunting, but it’s often easier than you might think.

Meal planning doesn’t mean that you must create elaborate menus every day. It simply means thinking about what you’re going to eat and selecting healthier options for meals and snacks. When you have a plan, you’re less likely to eat on impulse and make poor choices.13


Another benefit of meal planning is it gives you the ability to spread out when you eat during the day, which can keep you feeling satisfied during the day and prevent you from feeling famished at night. Your body will also thank you because eating at regular intervals can help stabilize blood sugar levels, which can prevent you from feeling tired.14


Wondering what is the right number of times to eat each day? Studies have found that eating more than three times per day results in lower weight and better appetite control.15 In contrast, eating less than three times per day reduces your ability to control your appetite and may encourage binge eating.16 Since it matters when you eat, meal planning and setting a routine can help you make healthier choices. As a Jenny Craig member, the Rapid Results program handles the planning for you, as it not only includes what to eat, but when to eat to optimize weight loss by using your natural circadian rhythm.17


#5. Include Protein at Each Meal

To feel fuller throughout the day, you’ll want to include protein in your meals and snacks.


Because protein helps manage hunger, it may help you avoid the temptation to munch late at night.18 One study found that regularly eating meals with protein reduced hunger by 60% and curbed the desire of participants to snack at night by 50%.19 Jenny Craig follows expert guidelines by including protein at each meal.


#6. Limit the Junk Food

LateNightSnacking_LimitJunkFood.jpgIf you find that fatty and sugary foods call to you at night, it may be best to remove the temptation from your home. It’s a lot more difficult to eat a lot of junk food if it isn’t readily accessible. If you’re following the Jenny Craig program, you can enjoy a slice of Triple Chocolate Cheesecake or Chocolate Lava Cake knowing it’s perfectly portioned and won’t hinder your weight loss progress.


Otherwise, to fill the void, stock up your refrigerator and pantry with healthy foods that you enjoy eating, such as non-starchy vegetables and fruits (in moderate amounts). By having these healthy snacks convenient, you’ll be less likely to snack on less nutritious foods.


The best part about healthy snacks, such as veggies and fruits, is that they naturally include the nutrients you need to nourish your body and fiber to feel full. Because these foods satiate your appetite, you’re less likely to overindulge in them.


#7. Manage Stress

LateNightSnacking_StressRelief.jpgMost of us have fallen victim to stress eating at some point. It turns out that stress is one of the most common reasons why people eat when they don’t feel hungry.20 However, it’s never a good idea to use food to deal with stress or other emotions.


If you’re someone who often eats when you’re facing stress or anxiety, try adopting some relaxation techniques. Some examples include meditation, exercise, yoga, deep breathing, massage and spending time with friends and family. We also love these fun activities that help reduce stress. In addition to these relaxation techniques, we encourage you to talk to your Jenny Craig consultant to help you develop a plan to overcome a stressful situation.


By understanding the pitfalls of late-night snacking and following these tips to cut back and stop your evening eating ritual, you’ll likely feel more satisfied and better rested while watching the numbers on the scale drop.


Are you ready to try a program that can help you curb your late-night snacking habit as well as help you lose weight? Contact Jenny Craig for your free appointment.






[1] https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317790.php 

[2] https://www.livescience.com/45990-morning-meals-cut-evening-food-binges.html

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/behindtheheadlines/news/2017-09-12-avoid-eating-just-before-your-bedtime-study-recommends/

[4] Longo, Valter D., and Satchidananda Panda. “Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 23, no. 6, 14 June 2016, pp. 1048–1059., doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001.

[5] https://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/2017/05/22/reasons-youre-late-night-snacking-and-how-to-avoid-it_a_22102300/

[6] https://www.livestrong.com/article/524453-meal-plan-for-people-who-work-late-nights/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3805807/

[8] https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/9615-long-term-complications-of-gastroesophageal-reflux-disease-gerd

[9] https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heartburn/symptoms-causes/syc-20373223

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/26/opinion/sunday/the-dangers-of-eating-late-at-night.html

[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25225489

[12] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26567190

[13] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23331770

[14] https://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/food-to-balance-your-mood#1

[15] https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/eating-frequency-and-weight-loss

[16] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21123467

[17] Longo, Valter D., and Satchidananda Panda. “Fasting, Circadian Rhythms, and Time-Restricted Feeding in Healthy Lifespan.” Cell Metabolism, vol. 23, no. 6, 14 June 2016, pp. 1048–1059., doi:10.1016/j.cmet.2016.06.001.

[18] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20339363

[19] Leidy, H J, et al. “The Effects of Consuming Frequent, Higher Protein Meals on Appetite and Satiety during Weight Loss in Overweight/Obese Men.” Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.)., U.S. National Library of Medicine, Apr. 2011, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20847729.    

[20] http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2013/eating.aspx


Edited by Elisa - Jenny Craig

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These are great tips and good reading.

Sometimes at night while I'm watching a movie or using my IPAD I want to snack (even though I have already eaten my dinner AND SNACK!)  If it's close to  9:30 or 10:00 can I eat carrots and tomatoes?  Usually I'm satisfied it only happens once in a while. 

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Annamarie H - Jenny Craig


36 minutes ago, Shirley09 said:

These are great tips and good reading.

Sometimes at night while I'm watching a movie or using my IPAD I want to snack (even though I have already eaten my dinner AND SNACK!)  If it's close to  9:30 or 10:00 can I eat carrots and tomatoes?  Usually I'm satisfied it only happens once in a while. 

@Shirley09 That's a great question.  If you're on the Rapid Results menu, we suggest having a tea or drinking water.  If you're on the Classic Menu or Type 2 Menu you can snack on carrots and tomatoes or any non starchy veggies. 

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