In Itlay, dinner usually isn't served until 9 p.m at night. Some urban lifestyles promote late night dining as sophisticated and trendy. Yet research shows that people should be more concerned about their health than in looking stylish by eating late at night.
To understand why late night eating is not recommended, we should first look at the stomach and how it works. Our digestive system is an amazing internal processing factory. Everything we eat must be broken down in the stomach into smaller molecules that can be absorbed or eliminated from the body. All the action takes place in tube-like organs as food continues its journey through the body.
Let's make an example out of that piece of cold pizza you just ate at 10 p.m.. You chewed it, and the mouthfuls passed through your esophagus and were dumped directly into your stomach. It will help if you think of your stomach as a large bag that works the food like a washing machine, but instead of water, it uses a very strong gastric acid and enzymes to break down the food. This is not a process that anyone really likes to think about. The important part of it to remember, when considering the effects of eating late at night, is the acid.
It's 11 p.m. and you have gone to bed. Your stomach, however, is not ready to rest. It is still working to process that piece of pizza. Now that you are in a reclining position in bed, the chances that you will experience heartburn pain have just increased. It's not a pleasant thought, but those same acids that are the key to good stomach processing can also slip back up your esophagus tube and stick there, slowing eating away at your throat tissue, in the form of heartburn.
In especially severe cases of acid reflux, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), the acid can even rise into the mouth causing an unusually high rate of tooth cavities. This happens because the band of muscle tissue called the LES, responsible for closing and opening the lower end of the esophagus and that forms a pressure barrier against contents from the stomach, no longer functions properly.
Another important effect of eating late at night is obesity. The calories we put into our bodies late at night cannot be burned off or processed in a healthy way. This leads to weight gain and fat storage in the body's tissues.
For diabetics, snacking on carbohydrate rich foods late at night is discouraged. This is because the extra calories from snacks can increase blood sugar the next morning. For a diabetic, vegetables are the best choice for late night snacking because they have few, if any, carbohydrates and are low in calories that won't increase blood sugar.
Late night eating can also be a source cause for insomnia. Chronic heartburn mentioned here can by itself produce insomnia, but so can other foods high in alcohol content and caffeine.
There are even two different disorders related to late night eating:
Night Eating Syndrome (NES) People wake up and feel an abnormal compulsion to eat.
Sleep Related Eating Syndrome People who actually eat in their sleep.
If you think you are experiencing the negative effects of late night eating, and need help to kick this habit, here are a few suggestions:
1. Eat three well balanced meals during the day. A daytime diet too low in calories will only encourage binging at night. You can include a couple of between meal snacks, just make sure they provide real nutrients with some fiber and are not high in empty carbohydrates.
2. Eat the bulk of your daily calories before 7 p.m.
3. When the usual urge strikes you to eat late at night, drink a couple of glasses of water or herbal tea sweetened with honey.
4. Perform a "Dr. Phil" on your emotions. Have an honest conversation with yourself about why you should not grab for that piece of pizza late at night. Keep reminding yourself how much weight you want to lose, and why it is important to you.
5. Trick yourself. Instead of eating, go and brush your teeth. Psychologically, this can help you resist your urges to eat because everyone likes the feeling of a fresh, clean mouth.
6. Find a hobby that you love and that keeps you occupied during the hours when your feel the strongest urges to eat late at night. Avoid watching TV or reading magazines with food advertisements.
7. Eat a solid, healthy breakfast every morning, whether you feel hungry or not. Get your body into the habit of eating food at the correct times each day.
The effects of eating late at night can become serious health and quality of life issues. By adopting a new diet lifestyle, and avoiding this habit, you have taken a giant step toward feeling better and keeping your weight under control.