How to fight off nighttime weight gain

Staff - - 02/24/2012
Weight Loss Tips

Forget the common myth: nighttime eating isn't a diet downfall in itself. “In general, eating after 7 or 8 p.m. isn't really a problem unless you've already eaten too much during the day,” says Karen Ansel, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Some advice:

If you're trying to lose weight, focus on how much you eat all day, not when you eat. Don't worry if you've eaten healthfully before and need to have dinner after 7. If you've eaten a lot already, however, have a smaller dinner or snack so you don't blow your calorie budget for the day. Pigging out on fatty, salty or sugary foods isn't good any time of day.

If you have frequent heartburn, keep your evening meal small and low in fat. Fat relaxes the valve that blocks painful stomach acid from getting into your esophagus. Having big, heavy meals shortly before you lie down to sleep — when gravity also works against you — is a common recipe for discomfort.

If you have trouble falling asleep, have a small, carbohydrate-rich snack. Try a bowl of oatmeal or whole-grain cereal, fruit or air-popped popcorn. Carbohydrates help the body make tryptophan, an amino acid that promotes deep sleep. Another option is tart dried cherries, which contain a hormone called melatonin that regulates sleep-wake cycles. Note: Avoid alcohol, which can disrupt sleep.

If you need to stay awake or alert, steer away from carbohydrates. Focus on healthy proteins such as lean meat, chicken or fish instead.

If you just worked out, make sure your meal has a combination of protein and healthy carbohydrates for muscle growth and recovery. Two examples: spaghetti and mini meatballs or grilled chicken over mashed sweet potatoes.

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