Is Night-Eating Killing Your Weight Loss Plan?

By: ATLX Expert Dr. Robert Ziltzer

If you are one of the millions of Americans trying to lose weight, you are in good company.  In fact, 2/3 of all Americans are either overweight or obese.  As a weight loss physician, I help people focus on a successful and sustainable plan that will deliver weight loss quickly, combined with muscle preserving complete nutrition.

Here is a common scenario:

You’ve eaten on your plan all day long. You are proud having stuck to your schedule. Maybe you skipped breakfast to save the calories for later (which, by the way, I do not advise). You’re not that hungry at lunch.  You have a reasonable dinner.  Then at 8PM, the munchies hit. You can’t control your eating.  It seems the more you eat, the more you want. What is worse, you crave the salty or sugary carbs you have fought so hard to avoid. Is this a familiar tale?

Dr. Robert ZiltzerFrom a personal standpoint, I had been thin in my teens and 20’s. When I hit my 30’s, I started to get thick around the middle. The scoop of ice cream or peanut butter on bread each night was catching up with me. I had put five inches on my waist in just 5 years!  I learned that what had worked for me earlier in life was failing me now.

Nighttime hunger can be the bane of any weight loss plan.  We burn the most fat during two times of the day: while sleeping and while exercising.  Nighttime eating is a killer for weight management.  At night, insulin levels are usually low, causing our fat cells to dump fatty acids resulting in weight loss.  Eating carbs raises insulin levels, shutting off fat-burning enzymes and causing our fat cells to absorb sugar. That sugar is converted to fat.  This causes fat storage at a time we normally use fat for fuel.  The foods that are the most likely to sabotage weight gain are carbohydrates (sugar, breads, pasta, rice, potatoes).  These are the foods we most crave at night.

Some tips to deal with nighttime hunger are:

1)     Eat breakfast every day, and get lots of protein to fuel your metabolism and preserve muscle.
2)     Eat four to five times daily, and get protein each time.  This will help keep you satisfied, and keep your blood sugars low.  Good sources of protein include eggs, chicken, fish, shellfish, turkey, protein shakes or bars, low fat Greek yogurt, low-fat cottage cheese, and low fat deli meats.
3)     Find foods that really kill your hunger.  I use protein shakes that provide at least 25 grams of protein.  Avoid fat building carbs or highly fatty foods.  Instead, choose from the protein sources mentioned above.  Most importantly, experiment each day until you find a food that reduces your hunger with fewer than 200 calories.  This will keep you away from higher carb foods.  Keep this food on hand each night.
4)     Get to sleep early.  The hunger hormone, ghrelin, is released from the stomach and triggers us to eat.  Unfortunately, it increases at night, increasing cravings.  Try to go to sleep before you get too hungry.

Night EatingControlling night time hunger is critical for any successful weight loss plan.  Finding the best way to manage your hunger takes much trial and error, as it did for me.  A rarer form of night eating involves those who awaken to eat and do not recall doing so.  Treatment of this problem requires care with a psychologist trained in eating disorders.  Similarly, eating to deal with depression, anxiety, boredom or stress will benefit from treatment from a medical weight loss center.

If you want further help, you can post your questions on Scottsdale Weight Loss Center’s Facebook page.

Robert Ziltzer, MD is a marathon runner, triathlete, and Obesity Medicine Physician, and cofounder of Scottsdale Weight Loss Center, pllc in Arizona.  He helps Arizonans lose thousands of pounds each year through medical diets, education, exercise and appetite suppressants.