Eating after dinner causes weight gain: Truth or bologna?
It depends on how much you eat! Nothing is more frustrating than when I overhear someone announce that they don’t eat after 6:00 pm. When I ask why they reply: “Because you just sleep on the calories and then gain weight.” Bologna! What happens if you get hungry after 6? Do you just live with a grumbling stomach? How silly! How miserable! What you are really doing is disobeying your body’s hunger signals, and that’s just plain foolish. If you’re not hungry, well that’s a different story…don’t eat.
The truth is, what matters is what and how much you eat in a 24-hour period…PERIOD! Eating past dinner (or at any time of the day for that matter) becomes an issue of weight gain when:
- You grub on traditional “couch potato” foods like chips, cookies, candy and other sweets
- You grub on traditional “couch potato” foods in amounts that could feed a small country
- You grub on traditional “couch potato” foods to cover up what you’re really feeling- sadness, boredom, depression, anxiety, ____________ (fill in the blank)
- You grub on non-couch potato foods (those typically thought of as “healthy”) in amounts that could feed a small country
Got it? So, if you are hungry and it’s past 6 pm, what should you eat? Here are some of my favorites that I think you’ll like too!
- Small bowl of whole grain cereal (Kashi, Quaker Oatmeal Squares, Cheerios) with skim milk
- Small bowl of oatmeal topped with a touch of brown sugar and handful of berries
- 2 graham cracker sheets with 4 ounces of skim, soy or almond milk
- 2 chocolate rice cakes topped with a dab of peanut butter
- Small bowl of Smart Balance Smart ‘n Healthy Popcorn
- 1 slice of whole grain toast with 1/2 tablespoon of peanut butter and a touch of jam
- 2 handfuls of whole grain tortilla chips (my favorite: Eat Smart Naturals Whole Grain Tortilla Chips with Flax, Quinoa, Chia and Sesame Seeds)
Notice all of the above snacks are carbohydrate-rich. Think about it- you aren’t craving carrot sticks in the after-dinner hours are you? Bring on the starch and sweets…right? There is a real reason for this, and no it’s not that you are a hopeless carb-addict! Some researchers believe that carbohydrate cravings signal a dip in your body’s serotonin stores. Serotonin is a powerful brain chemical that makes you feel happy and calm. Carbohydrate-rich foods like cereal and crackers increase your serotonin levels in a roundabout way, so this may explain why you sometimes crave cookies or other starchy foods in the late afternoon and evening or when you’re feeling blue. This is your body’s way of trying to boost its serotonin level so that it can feel better!
The bottom line: If you’re stomach hungry and it happens to be past 6:00, 8:00 or 10:00…EAT! Just make it small and smart!