If there’s one misguided “rule” about food that my team and I hear from clients again and again (and again), it’s this:
AVOID EATING BEFORE BED.
This food rule is so ingrained it approaches the level of a commandment: Thou shalt not eat after 7pm or 10pm or midnight, lest you gain ten pounds in the night and trolls haunt all of your dreams.
The (awful, terrible, completely false) myth is that a snack before bed puts extra calories in your stomach that sit there and somehow multiply into extra fat on your thighs. I HATE this myth. It is flat-out wrong. Skipping your bedtime snack is what can cause weight gain!
You might already know how I feel about food “rules.” Short version? You have to break the rules that never served you in the first place. (Want to hear how I became a rule breaker, and why it was the best decision EVER? Find out here.)
Not having a bedtime snack is a nonsense rule, and we’re going to break it right now. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but this pre-sleep snack could actually be the key that unlocks your weight loss. Here’s why (and what) you should eat before you start counting sheep:
A bedtime snack stabilizes your blood sugar so you can burn fat while you sleep
When you don’t have a bedtime snack, your blood sugar crashes shortly after you fall asleep. This crash, to put it simply, takes several really important body functions off. Namely, it keeps a hormone called glucagon from working, and glucagon has a very important job when it comes to your weight loss:
Glucagon burns fat. Unfortunately, glucagon can’t do its job while insulin is out doing its job. And if your blood sugar is low, you can bet insulin is trying to get that blood sugar up, which means glucagon is sitting on the sidelines and you’re not burning fat. And that’s when you pack on the pounds.
When you eat the right amounts of the right foods at the right time before sleep (don’t worry, I share suggestions in just two paragraphs!), your blood sugar levels stabilize, which makes it easier to shed pounds. This is like a green light for glucagon to drive in, and burn fat while you sleep.
A bedtime snack sets you up for success the next day
Unstable blood sugar also affects two more hormones related to digestion: ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin controls your feeling of hunger, while leptin controls how full you feel.
When you go to bed without a snack, and your blood sugars destabilize in the night, your ghrelin levels get higher. At the same time, your leptin levels get lower. This makes you wake up feeling like you are starving! You’re not actually starving, of course. You just have high ghrelin levels (and so little leptin) that you feel like it. And that’s when you reach for the carbs and the sugar-filled snacks to satisfy this (false) need.
The bedtime snack keeps this ghrelin-leptin seesaw from happening. So, when you wake up the next morning, you are in a better frame of mind and body to make smart food choices. Not only do you get to eat more with the bedtime snack (who doesn’t love a snack before bed!?), you are also likely to make better choices the next day.
So what should you eat? And exactly when?
Your bedtime snack should be made up of two of the three macronutrients: fats and carbs. (Protein can interfere with sleep so we stick with fat and carbs.) Now, when I say “fats and carbs,” I do not mean ice cream or cookies. These heavily processed, refined foods can be hard to digest, perforate your intestines, and cause chronic inflammation. Processed and refined carbs are so full of sugar that when you eat them before bed, your blood sugars will crash at some point in the night—and when they crash, you won’t sleep very well—you might even wake up.
When I talk about the “perfect” bedtime snack, I’m talking a combination of healthy fats (such as butter, avocado, olives, coconut oil, nuts and seeds) and healthy carbs (fruits and vegetables). Fifteen to 30 minutes before you hit the hay, put together a small combination of your favorite healthy fats and carbs. A few tablespoons for the fat and a ½ cup for the carbs is a good amount, such as full-fat yogurt or heavy cream with a ½ cup of berries. Other yummy choices are guacamole and carrots, almond butter and apple slices, mashed avocado and banana pudding, or coconut oil on top of a sweet potato with cinnamon.
A fat-and-carb bedtime snack won’t just break a bad, outdated rule. It will support your metabolism, which means your body can do fat-burning work while you sleep. Win-win.
It can be hard to sort through all the food rules you’ve learned over the years. Which do you keep? Which do you break? Talk about overwhelming.
What you need is the ultimate list of rules to break. And I’ve got it right here! “10 Rules to Break to Lose Weight” outlines my no-nonsense, keep-it-simple approach to nutrition, health and life. There’s no calorie-cutting, no sacrificing, no starving. You’re going to feel full, energized, and satisfied—and in control of your body and your life again. You’ll be breaking all the wrong rules, in all the right ways!