By: Avital Schwartz, ‘17, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator
One of the most common eating adages out there is “don’t eat at night” or “don’t eat after dinner” or “don’t eat after 8 o’clock”. How much truth is there to this, you may ask?
And like anything, IT DEPENDS.
If you ate dinner at 6 p.m. and go to bed at 9 p.m., then maybe it would be a good idea not to eat after 8 p.m. so you aren’t uncomfortable when lying down with a full stomach. But, if you are a college student, and you go to bed at midnight, 1 a.m., 2 a.m., or later, you should…wait for it….ABSOLUTELY eat at night.
Now let me tell you why.
There are three main reasons that eating at night is not only appropriate, but recommended for college students, young adults, and anyone going to sleep late.
- Meet energy needs. Our bodies are like cars. We need to fuel them if we want them to keep running. And food is our fuel. If there is a paper that takes until 3 a.m. to finish, but we don’t eat after our dinner at 7:30, how could we expect our body to keep on driving us to the 3 a.m. deadline? That’s almost 8 hours with no fuel, when we really shouldn’t go longer than 4-5! Anybody would have trouble not sputtering to a stop at that point.
- Reach nutrient requirements. Many college students do not eat enough throughout the day to meet their nutrient requirements. We might skip breakfast (although not recommended), or just be too busy to eat purposefully every 4-5 hours. This is another reason eating at night is absolutely a good idea. Had dinner at 8:30? Staying up til 2 a.m.? Have another meal at 12:30! Have some veggies, whole grains, lean protein, etc, and you will find you have renewed energy, plus, you got in some food groups that you may have missed during the day.
- Include fun, purposeful late night snacks. Learn to incorporate fun foods into an overall balanced diet. College is stressful. So is living in general. So, it is not a surprise that many of us occasionally turn to food to manage our stress. Especially at night. The good news is we can use this tendency to our advantage. Stock your room/apartment/house with things you want to choose at night. Make them purposeful and make them something you enjoy. For example, keep yogurt around to have an easy, sweet, but calcium-rich choice right at your finger-tips. But, if your stress always results in turning to food, there are more effective ways to manage stress. To learn how, consider taking advantage of the free stress management services at the University Health Center.
To sum up, eating at night is a GOOD thing for people whose “night” is really still part of their “day”. Just watch out for the easy trap of using food to procrastinate at night. “If I finish one more page I can have X”, or “I’m just going to find something to eat and then work on my project”, and on and on. Food is important to fuel our bodies, and sometimes just for taste, but we have to be careful not to use it as a reward for everything.
In the comments section below, share what you fuel up with at night, or what you will try now.