Late Night Snacks and Weight Gain

ByABC News
July 25, 2002, 2:59 PM

July 26 -- Long after the sun goes down, when most people are headed for sleep, some put their good eating habits to bed instead and awaken the nighttime nibbler within.

Yet, as satisfying as these midnight refrigerator raids may be, experts warn that post-dinner snack attacks can signal the start of a vicious cycle of weight gain.

"My busy schedule forced me to serve dinner twice a night, one for the kids, the other for my husband. I would eat again with him after picking at the food when I got home," confesses one late-night eater. "Afterwards there would be leftovers and I would feel bad so I would eat a little more while cleaning up."

Some people eat most of their calories at night for any and every reason except for actually being hungry. For emotional eaters, midnight snacking may be a response to feeling stressed, bored or lonely.

For others, "who have finished their daily duties and are relaxing at home, snacking is giving in to a normal urge," says Dr. Donald Hensrud, associate professor of preventive medicine and nutrition at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. "And, when there is little reason to put the brakes on, it is easy to eat quite a lot."

Something as simple as spending too much time in the kitchen the home of the refrigerator may tempt you to start snacking.

"Frequently people eat while standing at the refrigerator door. Because they don't put the food on the plate, they tend to eat more, feel satisfied less, and lose track of how much they have actually eaten," says Tammy Baker, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association in Chicago.

Late Night Snacking Increases Total Calorie Intake

As diet experts explain it, weight loss, gain, or stabilization is based on total calories consumed per day vs. the amount of energy burned. Therefore, "late-night snacking is a bad habit simply because it increases total calorie intake," says Hensrud. "A calorie is a calorie is a calorie no matter when it is consumed."