How often do you find yourself struggling to fit meals into your busy schedule? The day usually starts with a light breakfast, a meal quick enough to get you to work on time but filling enough get you through the first morning hours. Then there’s a lunch break, which serves more as a light meal break from work than another timely meal. The majority of the time these two meals are rushed and overcome by the natural stresses of work or school. As a result, dinner serves as the only time in which you can mainly focus on the food, or not focus on anything at all and relax.
On my usual route home at the end of the day, I find myself already salivating for a well-deserved meal, and for good reason. A long day of endless class and assignments calls for a timely end to the rustle and bustle. However, on those long nights, sometimes dinner just isn’t enough. A mere two hours after grubbing on your favorite homemade meal or to-go box, the once satiated hunger returns seemingly more intense than before. And thus begins the onslaught of the “midnight munchies.”
You certainly have heard of the midnight munchies, or just know the feeling. As the night grows, so too does your hunger, and as you wait to fill the void in your stomach, only the unhealthiest of options are left to satisfy your taste buds. From evening fast-food runs to delivery pizza, the late night food market is decorated with high fat and added sugar, a regular diet that would fatten any person, midnight or morning.
The legitimacy of the negative stigma against “midnight munchies” wavers upon further inspection. Not considering what you eat during the late hours of the night, the munchies can be simply seen as a fourth meal for those night owls who work well into the night. According to the MIT Medical School, what really matters is the total amount of calories you eat and not when you necessarily intake those calories. Any edible form of food contains the same calories that provide your body with energy to perform work. The more work that you do requires an equal amount of calories needed to supplement your body’s energy expenditures. For example, a burger eaten at 7:00 AM gives you the same amount of calories as the same burger eaten at 11:00 PM. Only extra calories are stored as fat, and these extra calories can come at any time of the day.
However, before going on a guilt-free late night food run, there still lies some validity to suggestions against eating during the sleeping hours of the day. This has more to do with your circadian rhythm, your body’s natural clock that determines your sleeping schedule and other major bodily functions, or simply, this pertains to the ‘midnight’ in the “midnight munchies.”
An adult’s strongest sleep drive generally spans between 2:00-4:00 AM. Like your sleep schedule, eating also fits within your body’s circadian rhythm. Repeatedly eating meals off rhythm, for instance every night at 1:30 AM, is naturally unhealthy as it misaligns your entire body’s clock. One study measured the effects of a misaligned circadian rhythm on your health and eating habits. The results of the research revealed that consistently eating during the late hours lead to decreased levels of leptin―a hormone that suppresses hunger―and increased levels of cortisol―the “stress hormone.” would increase appetite and could lead to hyperglycemia and diabetes, respectively. Another study more directly correlated eating off your circadian rhythm with weight gain.
Thus, the myth of the “midnight munchies” was somewhat cracked. Despite what you eat or when you eat it, the only determinant of the amount of fat you will store is the total amount of calories you intake that day in relation to the amount of work you do.
However, you should also try to trim down on how many times you partake in the “midnight munchies” fest, as you will only disrupt your body’s natural clock and schedule, which could have adverse consequences on your health. Nevertheless, with your late night hungers in consideration, here are some go-to tips to keep in mind when you’re snacking after sundown:
- Portion your late time snacking to a minimum. Leftovers from dinner or fruits or breakfast cereals are perfect meal sizes for the later hours.
- Eat only when you’re hungry. Although it may sound obvious, many find themselves eating simply out of boredom or just out of availability of good food. Refrain from eating out of non-hunger reasons.
- Load up on carbs and protein earlier in your day. Using the mindset of eating dinner for breakfast, like adding a chicken breast with your breakfast meal, would provide sufficient energy to push you through your work day and also would help lower on late night snacking.
- Try to focus on what you’re eating and not multitask while your snacking. Watching TV or browsing the internet while you’re eating distracts you from being more health conscious of the foods that you eat. When you’re snacking, first decide what you’re eating and how much you’re planning to eat, or else you’ll find yourself on the slippery slope of the late night munchies trail.
- Go to sleep. Establishing your rhythm of 6-8 hours of sleep nearly every night is the most effective way of feeling rejuvenated and refreshed with energy.
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