Can Eating Late Really Hurt You?
It really is unavoidable. Your child’s recital lasts longer than you expected and you had to go there straight from work. So, dinner doesn’t get on the table to be eaten until nearly 8:30 pm. Everyone is tired, and you just can’t wait to get the kitchen cleaned up and go to bed. Sound familiar? It seems that our fast paced life no longer allows us to eat our final evening meal early in the evening anymore. If it isn’t a late meeting or longer work hours, then it is likely shopping or exercise class.
How do you sleep after you have eaten too late? Do you wake up in the middle of the night with acid reflux or a stomachache?
Eating late affects the body in a different way than eating a larger meal at a different time of the day. Calories that are consumed at night are usually not processed as efficiently as those during the day.
Unless you work the night shift, most people’s activities wind down as the day does. Settling in after dinner isn’t uncommon. Unfortunately, if we lie down after a meal, it can be a strain and lead to a feeling of lethargy in the morning. Disrupted sleep is also common when the body is working hard to digest what was eaten recently. But that isn’t even the worst of it.
What are the effects of eating later at night?
- People consume more foods than they would if they had eaten earlier.
- Those who consume larger, later evening meals have an increase in triglyceride levels which are associated with diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and overall weight gain.
- People can experience acid reflux which can turn into Esophageal cancer
Acid Reflux has become a growing epidemic affecting as many as 40 percent of Americans. In addition to heartburn and indigestion, did you know that reflux symptoms might also include post nasal drip, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing, chronic throat clearing, coughing and asthma?
Sadly, what is worse is that acid reflux can develop into esophageal cancer, which has increased by about 500 percent since the 1970’s. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 18,000 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer in 2014, and more than 15,000 people will die from the disease.
In a healthy young person, the stomach normally takes a few hours to empty after a moderate-size meal. In older people or those who have acid reflux, gastric emptying is often delayed. Further, those dessert calories tend to be high in carbohydrates and fat, while high-fat foods often create reflux by slowing digestion and relaxing the stomach valve that normally prevents reflux. Other popular but notoriously bad-for-nighttime-reflux foods and beverages are mints, chocolate, soft drinks and alcohol.
What is responsible for this trend?
The answer has several factors:
- Our poor diet, with its huge increases in the consumption of sugar, soft drinks, fat and processed foods.
- Our portion sizes
- And another important variable that has been underappreciated and overlooked: our dinnertime.
According to Dr. Jamie A. Koufman, a physician in New York, over the past two decades, she has noticed that the time of the evening meal has been trending later and later among her patients.
In her experience, the single most important intervention for the improvement of acid reflux and subsequent risk of esophageal cancer is to eliminate late eating, which in the United States is often combined with portions of large, over-processed, fatty food and alcohol. Europeans have fewer cases of reflux than we do, even though many of them eat late. That’s most likely from portion control. In France, for example, a serving of ice cream is typically a single modest scoop, while in America, it’s often three huge scoops.
Many people find that eating earlier alleviates their allergies, sinusitis, sleep apnea, asthma, and diabetes symptoms. Although these conditions may not seem linked, postnasal drip and a cough are typical reflux symptoms that can easily be mistaken for something else.
Many who are complaining of reflux already eat a healthy diet. For them, dining too late is often the sole cause of their problem. And yet, hearing that they need to change the timing of their meals is sometimes a challenge they cannot meet.
To stop the excessive increase in reflux disease, we have to stop eating by 7 p.m., or whatever time falls at least three hours before bed. For many people, eating dinner early represents a significant lifestyle shift. It will require eating well-planned breakfasts, lunches and snacks, with healthy food and beverage choices.
Eating late is often accompanied by overeating, because many skip breakfast and eat only a sandwich at lunch. Thus the evening meal becomes the largest meal of the day. After that heavy meal, it’s off to the sofa to watch television or work on the computer. After eating, it’s important to stay upright because gravity helps keep the contents in the stomach. Reflux is the result of acid spilling out of the stomach, and lying down with a full stomach makes reflux much more likely.
We believe the late evening and early morning hours are the time for cleansing and healing the body from the day before. If we are using the body’s energy to digest food (which should have occurred during the active day-time hours), we are not giving the body that important cleansing time that it needs to help fight off disease, as well as help heal ourselves naturally.
Tips to Avoid Eating Late At Night
- Eat a moderate breakfast and a heavier lunch.
- Have a moderate dinner before 6 PM.
- When you feel like eating late at night, drink a cup of warm lemon water or an herbal tea with raw honey. Hot liquids are soothing and warming. Even a piece of juicy fruit will be enough to satisfy you and still is easy to digest.
- If eating late is a habit of yours, you will have to break that habit. Start by reducing your portion sizes and choosing healthier meals.
- Eat soups, fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts—earlier in the day.
- Brush your teeth earlier! It may sound too simple, but some people find that if they just brush their teeth, they are less likely to indulge in late-night eating patterns.
- Turn off the TV. Television can subconsciously trigger desires for more food.
- Lose weight. Obesity leads to hiatal hernia and reflux, which may lead to the increasing rates of esophageal cancer.
- Take a warm bath. Turn on some soothing music. Read a book. Create new night-time rituals that don’t involve heavy eating.
- Go on a brisk walk after dinner.
If you are a clean eater and still find yourself with acid reflux. Take a look at the times and amounts you are eating. We always like to say that people should eat like “paupers” most of the time and they can eat like “kings” only on special occasions.
When is your final meal of the day?