Let's be real here: occasional late-night eating is inevitable. Try as we all might, our super-busy work schedules and social life means it's not always possible to stick with a 7 p.m. dinnertime (or resist the siren song of late-night mozzarella sticks at the bar). So, what's a hungry night owl to do? Turns out, there's a right and a wrong way to approach late-night eating, and the right approach could mean better sleep, a faster metabolism and — duh — a sleeker physique.
Amy Shapiro, M.S., R.D., believes that when eating later at night, you'll want to try to avoid fried foods, as they take a long time to digest, and simple carbohydrates, which eventually turn into sugar and get stored as fat (so, yeah, not so much with that bar food). She encourages clients to eat something satisfying, with ample protein and a bit of fat, to ensure that you don't wake up in the middle of the night hungry. Ideal meals would be either chicken or fish with veggies, or greek yogurt with fruit and granola.
No matter what you reach for, portion control is especially important when it comes to late-night eating — so if you must have those mozz sticks (we know how it is), try to split them with your best ladyfriend. "If you can't eat at an early time, you don't want to eat until you feel full, because your metabolism is at its slowest point at the end of the day," says Shapiro. "If you eat a large meal right before bedtime, your body will struggle to process it."
As a general rule when planning nighttime eating, you want to make sure you schedule in some time for your body to digest and metabolize food before hitting the hay. "You want at least a two-hour window between your last bite and bedtime, says Lauren Slayton, M.S., R.D. "This practice not only benefits your digestion, but it also improves the quality of your sleep." Having that time off from actively digesting is super-important for your overall health, says Slayton. "I tell my clients that it's important to make sure that there is at least a twelve-hour period where you're 'food-free,' because your digestive system needs time to rest and reset," she says.
So, what happens if you slip up and eat a little too much, a little too late? The best way to recover, according to Shapiro, is to fit in a workout before eating anything the next morning, which will burn the sugar stores in your liver from the previous night's meal. And to make sure that you're prepared next time, Slayton recommends nipping the junk food temptation in the bud. "If we're talking post-drinking munchies, plan a snack and have it waiting for you when you get home. A bowl of cherries, which contain the sleep hormone melatonin, something crunchy like Mary's Gone Crackers, or some cacao nibs will be way better for you than anything you will grab on your way home."