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Should you forget that late-night snack?

For some people, watching a TV show or a movie and snacking go hand in hand. But whether you read a social media post, saw it in a magazine or heard it from a friend, you’ve probably heard that eating before bed makes you gain weight. Is it true?

"Eating before bed is commonly misunderstood. Many people believe that your body essentially stops burning calories when you go to sleep; in reality, your body burns calories 24/7," explained Dr. Jila Kaberi-Otarod, Geisinger obesity and weight-management physician and associate director for Geisinger Northeast’s Nutrition and Weight Management program. "However, there is plenty of debate about whether or not you gain weight by eating that after-dinner snack."

One study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that people who eat late at night have a higher body mass index (BMI). Similar studies have been conducted on animals showing similar results. However, many experts turn to conventional wisdom to settle the debate: A calorie is a calorie. Your weight gain depends on how many calories you eat in a day and how many you burn through exercise.

It might not be when you eat, but what you eat

While it is still unclear if eating late at night will make you gain weight, experts do tend to agree that, while watching a movie or heading to the kitchen for an extra bite before bed, weight gain might be a result of what you eat.

"The average person is probably reaching for a brownie or some chips and not a few baby carrots or raw almonds," said Dr. Otarod.

These calorie-dense, high-fat and high-sugar snacks should always be eaten in moderation, whether you enjoy them at midday or at night. And eating while distracted by TV or a video game can also contribute to the problem.

"It’s easy to keep mindlessly grabbing handfuls of chips and salsa if you’ve got the entire bag on the coffee table," said Otarod. "You’re not paying close attention to portion sizes."

What’s a late-night snacker to do?

If you ate a few hours ago and you’re used to eating a snack before going to sleep, first ask yourself if you’re really hungry. Some people fall into a routine where they tend to eat while they enjoy some TV, regardless of whether they need to eat.

If the answer is yes, try to choose a small, healthy after-dinner bite.

This will not only help you to keep your daily calories in check, but it will also help you prevent the discomfort of acid reflux and indigestion that can also come with snacking throughout the evening.

Acid reflux is when the acid produced in your stomach moves up into your esophagus. You might wake up a few hours after going to sleep with painful heartburn in your chest.

You should also make sure you’re getting plenty of exercise during the day and trying to eat healthy, balanced meals.

"It’s easy to overdo it later at night. Practice ‘everything in moderation’ with your late-night snacks and keep it healthy if you must have some food," said Dr. Otarod.

Dr. Jila Kaberi-Otarod, MD, CNSC, is an obesity and weight-management physician and also serves as associate director for Geisinger Northeast’s Nutrition and Weight Management program. She sees patients at Geisinger’s specialty clinic, 675 Baltimore Drive, Wilkes-Barre, and Geisinger Mt. Pleasant, 531 Mt. Pleasant Dr., Scranton. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Otarod or another Geisinger nutrition and weight-management specialist, please call 570-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.

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