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Can A Midnight Snack Help You Lose Weight?

Can A Midnight Snack Help You Lose Weight?
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BY KITT WALSH

I heard it first from Oprah and, like Moses bringing those tablets down from the mountain, I took it as a commandment: Thou shalt eat no food after dinner lest you want to apply said food directly to your hips.

I believed it, probably because Oprah said it and I, like millions of other women, remember when she dragged that wagon full of fat onstage to show all the weight she’d lost. That woman knew fat.

But was she right in that no-food-at-night dictum?

Actually medical thinking about that has changed. Just as endocrinologists and metabolism specialists attribute lots of our problems losing weight to us having undiagnosed sleep apnea (which is literally keeping us awake often during the night and therefore slowing our metabolism), they also now believe going to bed hungry has much the same affect.

We are almost drifting off when g-r-r-r-r, our stomach starts rumbling, and we start pondering whether to get up, hit the fridge or will the hunger away until breakfast. This can be a tall order if dinner was a Healthy Choice frozen tray or small portions of protein and veggies. We may actually be hungry and ignoring that isn’t always the healthiest choice.

We may still drift off, but won’t be able to achieve the deep restful sleep our bodies (and metabolism) need to recuperate from the day and have our engines running optimally in the morning.

Our brain is just doing its job, staying awake to ensure we are getting enough to eat. It can’t stand down until it knows we are safe and not starving and lack of sleep is bad for weight loss. An empty stomach at bedtime, experts say, might interfere with your body being able to convert protein to muscle or at least slow down the rate at which it can do so. If we’ve been truly starving ourselves and are missing necessary nutrients, our body may in fact start breaking down muscle to ensure our fuel supply.

As reported on WebMD, Leslie Bonci, former director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburg Medical Center and now owner of Active Eating, wants to break the myth about nighttime eating making weight gain worse.

“People just assume that after 6 pm, calories that will become fat go straight to your butt,” Bonci told WebMD. “But the body is clueless about what time it is when you eat too much. It knows how to store calories every hour of the day.”

She points out that if nighttime eating made you fat, everyone in Spain would be obese since they don’t eat dinner until 10 pm.

“It’s not when you eat, its what you eat, according to Bonci. “Watch your calorie intake,” she says, “Whenever you take in the calories, they re going to matter. Just not eating at night is not an effective strategy for weight loss”.

Judy Cameron, an Affiliate Senior Scientist at Oregon National Primate Research Center, checked this out using female monkeys. To mimic human menopause, she removed the monkey’s ovaries and to mimic junk food, she fed them a high food diet. Then she watched as some of the monkeys ate 2/3rds of their calories at night, while the others ate during the day. The outcome between the two groups about which gained the most weight was that there was no difference at all. The ones who ate at night gained no more weight than those who ate during the day.

The key was the monkeys’ activity level. Those who were sedentary got fat. Those who were active stayed lean. So at least one old adage is true: you’ve got to move it to lose it.

If your hunger is keeping you from sleeping, get up and eat. Nutritionists recommend you choose complete proteins as a midnight snack because they offer the greatest benefits to your metabolism and to your hunger level. A complete protein means it has all the essential amino acids your body doesn’t produce on its own, like fish, soy, eggs, poultry and dairy-derived whey or casein protein. You can also throw in some fruits, vegetables and whole grains to round out the snack. Examples might be Greek yogurt with some chopped strawberries, an apple with a hard-boiled egg or some low fat milk with a drizzle of honey (yes, you may heat it for some extra comfort). Try to keep your snack under 150 calories and be sure to add it to your intake for the day so you can keep your calorie count low enough to still lose weight.

Some studies in Britain show that such a snack can even give your metabolism a boost the next morning just from snacking the night before. You get a jumpstart on your energy level (just remember to use some of that to get some exercise first thing).

So next time you have a tiger in your tank and the clock says midnight, go ahead and feed the beast. Just do so in moderation and you should be able to sleep well (and with a clear conscience.)

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Kitt Walsh owns a web content company, Behind Blogs (http://www.behindblogs.com), is a regular contributor to CNN Money, a public speaker on Social Media, a book editor and ghostwriter, and freelances as a feature writer, editor and marketing consultant for magazines, newspapers and private clients around the world.