More than half of us are all-day grazers, eating for 15 hours or longer every day. We also eat the majority of our calories – more than 35% of them – at night after 6 pm (1).
That late-night eating comes with a number of metabolic consequences, and a new study shows that it actually increases hunger, reduces the calories you burn throughout the day, and leads to changes in fat tissue that make weight loss harder.
If weight loss and better metabolic health are your goals, it pays to have a strategy for handling the hours before bedtime. This blog post shares what to eat, when to fast, and a few tips to make the whole thing easy to follow, more enjoyable, and effective.
Bedtime Routine for Weight Loss – At-A-Glance
- Late-night eating increases hunger, reduces calorie burning, and leads to adverse changes in fat tissue.
- Part 1: Stop eating 3 hours before bed
- Part 2: Eat a low-carb/high-fat/moderate-protein diet
- Tip 1: Use Stoppers to prevent overeating
- Tip 2: Take 2 tbsp. of apple cider vinegar with or without 1 oz. of cheese at bedtime (for those looking to improve fasting blood sugar levels)
Bedtime Routine for Weight Loss [Video]
In this video, you’ll learn…
- How late-night eating affects your body.
- A two-part strategy for your bedtime routine.
- Two tips to help you on your journey.
The Problems with Late-Night Eating
The Journal Cell Metabolism published a 2022 study that set out to test the mechanisms that link late-night eating to increased obesity risk. Specifically, they wanted to determine if the time that we eat matters when daily calories, physical activity, and other factors are kept consistent (2).
They took a group of 16 overweight or obese patients through two laboratory protocols. One had them follow an early meal schedule. The other had them eat the same meals but shifted their eating times four hours later.
They found that eating four hours later significantly increased their hunger level and decreased levels of leptin, which is the appetite-regulating hormone that tells you when hunger has been satisfied. They also found that when the late eating pattern was followed, participants burned calories at a slower rate and exhibited changes in fat tissue that promoted fat storage.
Bedtime Routine – Part 1: Stop Eating 3 Hours Before Bed
As you may have guessed, part one of our bedtime strategy is not eating late at night, with the goal being to create at least a three-hour fasting window before bedtime.
To do that, take a moment right now to think about when you typically turn off the light and close your eyes at night. When you have that time in your head, count back three hours, and that is when you want to be done eating for the day.
That is your initial goal. If you can increase that by an extra hour or more, that’s great. If three hours feels challenging due to hunger, you can work up to that length of time. You will find that your comfort level improves as you overcome the mental and physical hurdles that naturally show up whenever you change your eating schedule.
For instance, if you are used to snacking late at night, your brain has late-night snacking on its schedule. When bedtime approaches, even if you are not hungry, your brain says, “Okay, it is time to eat.” That false hunger is driven by habit. The more you practice fasting before bed, the more comfortable you’ll become as your brain lets go of the expectation of late-night snacking.
You can speed up this transition and improve your physical comfort with fasting by picking the right food at dinnertime.
Bedtime Routine – Part 1: Make Dinner Low-Carb/High-Fat/Moderate-Protein
Part two of the strategy is eating a low-carb, high-fat dinner with moderate protein. The lower carbohydrate intake causes less fluctuation in blood sugar, so there is a low risk of a blood sugar crash that drives cravings. The fat and protein in the evening meal provide lingering hunger satisfaction, so you do not feel physically hungry in the evening.
You generally want to stick with whole foods, getting at least 50% of your daily calories from fat and no more than 25% from carbohydrates.
This way of eating is followed for your meals throughout the day. The study had participants eat three meals, with a uniform shift of hours from early to late. That means that during the beneficial early eating protocols, they were eating breakfast. You can feel free to resume eating in the morning.
If you are just not a breakfast eater, you can tighten up your eating window to fit your lifestyle. For instance, you could have just lunch and dinner or lunch, dinner, and a light afternoon snack. There are many different work, family, and social demands. Work with your body and schedule to find what works for you, keeping the goal of stretching out the hours between your last meal and bedtime as your focus.
Bedtime Routine Tips for Success
Two common challenges that come with a shift to early mealtimes are how to prevent overeating at dinner and how to pass the hours that used to be filled with food.
Stoppers Stop Overeating
When you first move dinnertime to an earlier hour, the concern is getting too hungry before you fall asleep. The knee-jerk reaction is to eat more at dinner. However, this can easily encourage unhealthy desserts or the intake of more calories than your body needs. This sabotages your weight loss efforts.
The solution is to use a Stopper. This is the term I use for an item, drink, or activity that allows you to separate from the act of eating. One way they do this is by changing the taste in your mouth. This would be true for minty things like sugar-free gum and brushing your teeth. Other items, like hot tea, take a long time to sip, giving your brain time to get the message that you are full.
ACV Before Bed
I will leave you with one additional tip for improving insulin sensitivity and, ultimately, fat loss that may also help you navigate the evening fast.
I published a blog post on apple cider vinegar a few months ago. The article was based on a study that showed combining early time-restricted eating with a bedtime dose of apple cider vinegar to be beneficial for controlling morning blood sugar levels in patients with type 2 diabetes.
That study piqued many people’s interest because the participants got the desired results even though they consumed an ounce of cheese with the two-tablespoon dose of apple cider vinegar. The cheese was used to make the vinegar more palatable. It would not need to be included, but it is easy to see how this could ease hunger during the evening fast.
If your doctor has told you that you have a blood sugar-regulating problem. They may have spoken to you about the benefits of controlling your fasting blood sugar levels.
This is a strategy that addresses that issue. If you are struggling with hunger before bed, the cheese can help you bridge the gap as you work toward building comfort with late-night fasting.
The type of cheese was not specified in the study, but I recommend a hard cheese, like Swiss or Cheddar. And yes, eating cheese would technically break the fast, but the study showed that the participants were still benefitting. This is an instance where it is best to look at the big picture, helping you create a way of eating that is easy to follow, enjoyable, and still effective.
Avoiding food at least three hours before bed reduces hunger and increases calorie burning throughout the day. This early eating schedule also prevents harmful changes in fat tissue.
To build your comfort level, eat blood sugar-stabilizing meals made up of whole foods. These foods should be are low in carbohydrates, with good amounts of fat and protein. Apple cider vinegar at bedtime, with or without an ounce of cheese, provides additional blood sugar stability. Stoppers help you control the urge to overeat at dinner.
As with any change in eating patterns, your comfort level will grow as your brain lets go of the expectation of late-night snacking. Stick with it and work with your body to create the change.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful week!
(1) Gill, Shubhroz, and Satchidananda Panda. “A smartphone app reveals erratic diurnal eating patterns in humans that can be modulated for health benefits.” Cell metabolism 22.5 (2015): 789-798.
(2) Vujović, Nina, et al. “Late isocaloric eating increases hunger, decreases energy expenditure, and modifies metabolic pathways in adults with overweight and obesity.” Cell Metabolism 34.10 (2022): 1486-1498.