30 Nighttime Habits That Could Make You Wake Up Fatter
Although it may feel like nothing short of a miracle that you can crash on your couch at the end of a long day, studies have found that the particular ways you choose to wind down after dark could actually be widening your waistline. That's right—your evening rituals are the prime suspect when it comes to the reason you've been packing on the pounds. We're here to help you scope out these diet saboteurs and scrape them from your daily routine for good.
Replace them with these things to do before bed to lose weight and you'll be saying goodbye to any unwanted fat in no time! Be sure to stock up on any of The 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now while you're at it, too.
You Break a Sweat
It may seem like breaking a sweat before bed would help tire yourself out, but if your exercise routine falls within two hours of your planned time to hit the hay, it could be hurting your weight-loss efforts more than helping. That's because exercise raises your adrenaline levels and core body temperature. Because your core body temperature naturally decreases as you get ready to sleep, raising it can make it hard to fall or stay asleep. Interfering with a good night's rest is one of the 40 Habits That Make You Sick and Fat.
You Reach for a Nightcap
That glass of wine will help you relax—acting as a depressant, alcohol can make it easier to fall asleep more quickly—but it will negatively affect the quality of your sleep. It does this by preventing you from fully indulging in your REM (Rapid Eye Movement) cycle, which is where truly restful sleep and dreaming occurs. Plus, because your body has to process the alcohol, it can also act as a stimulant, resulting in more shallow sleep later on. "Research shows that drinking alcohol before bed can make you more likely to wake up throughout the night and diminishes the quality of sleep," according to dietician Mitzi Dulan, RD. As a result, you'll wake up feeling less rested the following morning, which has been found to correspond with a higher likelihood of poor food choices, higher levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, lower levels of the satiety hormone leptin, and eventually, more belly fat.
You Stay Up Until the Wee Hours
As you'll soon see, a significant portion of these habits revolves around interrupting or disrupting a restful night's sleep. What's the connection between sleep and weight? According to Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition, "When we don't get enough sleep, our hunger hormones are greatly affected, [which can mess with your body's ability to determine when it's actually hungry, when it should stop burning calories, and when it should store energy as fat]," says Smith. Research has found that not only will missing out on shut-eye cause you to eat more the next day and crave high-calories foods, but less time hitting the hay also correlates with increased levels of the fat-storing stress hormone cortisol. Sleep isn't the only way to decrease this anxiety-ridden hormone. Check out these 32 Foods That Turn off the Stress Hormone That's Making You Fat.
Dinner is Your Biggest Meal
When you leave your largest meal for later in the day, you could prevent yourself from sleeping soundly. According to Smith, "Generally, if we eat big meals before we go to bed, our body has trouble winding down because there's still a lot of blood flow required to our stomach for digestion which is disruptive." Long nights tossing and turning in your bed means your slim-down progress suffers.
You Breeze Through Dinner
Following up on our last point, if you're starving by the time you get home, you're more likely to scarf down dinner. As a result, you could take in more calories than your body needs, and it'll store any excess food as fat. Why the higher chance of overeating? It's because it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to pass on the message to your brain that you're full. It's why you've been able to eat entire bags of chips in minutes, only to feel way overstuffed shortly after.
You Brew a Cup of Tea
Sure, green tea is rich in metabolism-boosting antioxidants, but sipping on this slimming elixir should be reserved for the morning. Unless it's an herbal blend, tea leaves contain caffeine: a stimulant that keeps your mind alert and active and that could prevent you from getting a restorative night's sleep.
You Eat On the Couch
Family dinners at the table aren't just great for bonding time. The habit of sitting at a table to eat will do a body good. That's because it allows you to focus on your company and on the task at hand: eating. On the other hand, when you sit on a couch and watch T.V., your brain has to multitask. Studies have found that distracted eating causes your brain to miss certain satiety cues and oftentimes results in overeating.
You Always Treat Yourself To Dessert…
We're not saying dessert is a no-go all the time, but it can be causing you to pile on the pounds when it becomes a daily habit. Since you already ate dinner, your body likely isn't craving sugar because it needs the energy (which is the case when you're hangry). You're looking for cookies and ice cream because you've conditioned yourself that a meal only ends once you've had sugar. In doing so, you'll automatically tack on hundreds of extra calories to your daily budget while simultaneously strengthening your reliance on the sweet stuff.
…And You Often Make it a Zero-Calorie Treat
Don't think you're off the hook because you've opted for the zero-sugar ice cream. A study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, discovered that chronic consumption of artificial sweeteners can cause your brain to recalibrate its association with sweetness and energy. As a result, you may consume up to 30 percent more calories when you eat naturally-sweetened food. That's not the only problem with artificial sweeteners. Other studies have linked the zero-calorie, zero-sugar additives to decreased sleep quality and disturbing your gut's ability to fend of weight-inducing inflammation. (Instead, try out any of these no-sugar-added recipes you'll actually look forward to eating!)
You Choose the Wrong Late-Night Snacks
Quesadillas are mighty tasty, but they're not the best choice if you're trying to quiet your hunger pangs before bed. High-fat snacks can keep your body up working to digest these high-density foods, while high-sugar snacks can cause spikes and crashes in your blood sugar, causing you to wake up in the middle of the night hungry. And you know the drill: disrupted sleep is often a recipe for a diet disaster.
You Immediately Retreat to the Couch Post-Dinner
It's only natural that once the sun sets it feels like your day is done. But in accepting this notion, you're missing out on habits that could help your body metabolize a meal more efficiently. When you retreat to the couch after eating, you miss out on the benefits you would reap from taking a short walk. According to a Diabetologia study, when diabetics walked for 10 minutes after each main meal, they were able to lower their blood glucose levels by 12 percent more than those who concentrated their exercise into one 30-minute walk. Diabetics aren't the only ones that can benefit from a short walk. A study published in BMJ found that middle-aged overweight and obese adults who interrupted sitting time with short bouts of walking could also minimize spikes in blood sugar and lower insulin levels after eating meals. That directly translates to preventing your body from storing fat!
And You Fall Asleep on the Couch
We've all done it before, but when you make it a habit, falling asleep on the couch can interfere with your sleep schedule. You'll end up waking up in the middle of the night and trudging up to bed—disrupting your restful night's sleep in the process.
You Forgo Showering Until Morning
If your nightly bathroom routine only includes brushing your teeth, you're missing out on one of the bset things to do 30 Minutes before bed to lose weight. And that's showering. UCLA researchers discovered that temperature drops were an important sleep cue for our paleolithic ancestors after studying some of the world's last remaining hunter-gatherer tribes. Rather than standing outside and feeling the drop in temperature as the sun sets, this same temperature drop is mimicked when you take a hot shower and then cool off upon drying. The temperature dip might make your pound-shedding shuteye deeper and could help you fall asleep faster.
You Allow Yourself To Completely Zone Out
After a long day of work, it's natural to want to check out upon getting home. While that might be your way to cope with stress, Smith tells us that a lack of conscientiousness could result in poor food choices. After all, one study found that the second leading reason why we turn to food is because we're bored. (Number one was because we actually felt hungry.) One solution? "I ask my clients to journal to become more aware of the other things that are going on in their brain that they're not paying attention to. When people start to write down what they're thinking on paper it makes it easier to see what's really going on," Smith tells us.
You Scroll Through Work Emails
You may have left your desk, but that doesn't mean you've finished up work for the day. Many of us make a habit of scrolling through countless work emails and review our schedule for the next day. While this may be beneficial for some people in terms of allowing you to plan out your whole week, for others, thinking about work while at home could make you feel stressed. When you're stressed, levels of the fat-storing hormone cortisol increase, which can widen your waistline.
You Scroll Through Instagram
Those towers of pancakes and gigantic milkshakes sure look pretty, but catching up on what you missed today in the social media world could be doing your waistline a disservice. Research published in the journal Brain and Cognition discovered that regularly looking at virtual foods could cause levels of hunger hormones to increase—even if your body isn't physically hungry. And that's a recipe for late-night snacks and extra calories your body doesn't need. Instead, spend that time whipping up one of these 51 Healthy Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss.
You're Drawn to Metabolism-Boosting Spicy Foods
You know that capsaicin, a compound found in spicy red peppers, can boost your metabolism, but it does this by increasing your body's core temperature and increasing your blood flow. Both of these bodily responses can interfere with your ability to wind down at night and get the sleep you need.
You Read From an IPad in Bed
Good on you for reading! There's just one problem: the blue light emitted from your iPad, computer, and smartphone can trick your brain into thinking it's time to be awake rather than time to wind down. You see, blue light inhibits production of the sleep-rhythm-regulating hormone melatonin, which means your brain doesn't get the alerts that it's time to rest your head on a pillow. Try to power down your electronic devices at least an hour before bed.
You Love Ordering Take Out
Dinner can be as simple as baked chicken with a sweet potato and roasted brussels sprouts, and it will still be better for you than ordering takeout. Published in the Journal of the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a recent study found that a staggering 92 percent of meals from local restaurants have more than double the calories recommended for an average meal. It might take some time to master and mean you have to do the dishes, but cooking at home is a sure-fire way to cut calories.
You Only Relax By Eating A Snack
Regardless of how "healthy" that snack is, when you connect emotions to food, you're setting your diet up for disaster. "Using food as a relaxation method is very common because for a lot of people food comes along with relaxing on the couch at night," says Smith. That being said, by connecting food to that emotion, you tell your body that food is your coping mechanism, and you will continue to seek it out in order to relax. Replace the chewing with something else to calm your nerves, like doing your nails, taking a shower, or meditating.
You Come Home Starving
When you skip breakfast and nibble on snacks during the day, your body enters into starvation mode: it increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol and hunger hormone ghrelin. So it's no wonder you're starved by dinner. The issue? When your body is so hungry, you're more likely to make poor food decisions (you're drawn to energy-dense, high-calorie foods) and will eat more quickly, which can ultimately result in consuming more calories than you otherwise would.
You Nosh in Bed
When you reserve your bedroom for snoozing, you can train your brain to associate getting under the covers with snoozing—which ultimately makes it easier to fall asleep. On the other hand, eating in bed or working in bed can subliminally make you feel hungry or stressed when you walk in the room.
You Get Too Comfy
Snuggling up in your bed with cozy pillows and fuzzy blankets is certainly appealing, but don't pile on the layers. A cool, but not cold environment—anywhere between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit—is the most conducive to good sleep. That's because our body temperature naturally declines after the early afternoon and reaches the lowest point at 5 AM. Keeping your sleep environment cold will help your body reach that lower temperature faster, which also encourages deeper sleep and quicker time to sleep. Not only will you sleep better, but Dutch researchers also found that people who slept for a week in 60-degree Fahrenheit rooms lost more weight and increased levels of calorie-burning brown fat compared to those who slept in 75-degree rooms.
You Eat Too Late
No, it's not because the notorious food myth that your metabolism slows down after 8 p.m. The reason why late-night eaters are more likely to gain weight compared to those who take advantage of the early bird special is because night owls are more likely to binge eat and subsequently choose unhealthy foods that are high in sugar and fat. Not only will these high-energy foods pack on the pounds, but many of them can make it harder to fall asleep.
Or You Eat Way Too Early
It's the Goldilocks principle. We've discussed the problems with too late, so now it's time to discuss how eating too early could be widening your waistline. (You have to figure out for yourself what your "just right" time is.) When you eat over 5 hours before bedtime, you might find that you start to feel hungry again. Hunger pangs can actually keep the brain on high alert, which will prevent you from getting a good night's sleep. Poor sleep means increased production of the "I'm hungry" hormone ghrelin the next day and a significant boost in appetite the following morning. Not particularly a good thing if you rely on the drive-thru for your morning meal. Nip poor food choices in the bud by following our Meal Prep Guide to a Quick, Healthy Breakfast.
You Watch Your Favorite Shows
Once the clock strikes 9, you know your place is on the couch, watching the newest episode of your favorite show. It makes you feel like you're relaxing, but in reality, that nightly Netflix isn't doing much good. A recent review found that for every two hours spent watching TV, a person's risk of early death and developing diabetes and heart disease, and increased by 13, 20, and 15 percent, respectively. On the other hand, University of Vermont researchers found that overweight folks who cut their tube-time in half burned an additional 119 calories a day than their couch-potato peers.
You Indulge in Your Daily Piece of Chocolate
Dark chocolate, that is rich in nutrients like healthy fats, magnesium, and free-radical-fighting antioxidants known as flavanols, but the good-for-you treat should be reserved for a mid-afternoon snack. The high-percent-cacao dark chocolate bars that contain the most antioxidants also contain the most caffeine, which can prevent your body from shutting down when you want it to if you're sensitive to the compound. For your reference, a 1-oz portion of 70 percent chocolate contains around 40 milligrams of caffeine, while an eight-ounce cup of green contains 45 milligrams.
You Keep Water on Your Nightstand
We may have been the people who told you that not drinking enough water is one of the top 30 Reasons Why You're Always Hungry, but that doesn't mean you should be chugging H2O at night. The reasoning is quite intuitive: "If you drink too much right before bed, you may find yourself awakening multiple times to urinate." says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE. Instead, she says, "start to taper off your fluid intake about three hours before bedtime."
You Serve Dinner Buffet-Style
You should be proud that you've cooked a protein, three sides, and a beautiful salad, but that doesn't mean you should lay it all out on the dining room table. When food is easily accessible for quick seconds (and thirds), you have a higher likelihood of consuming more calories than you would if you had to think twice about having to get up and walk over to the counter to dish out another helping.
You Don't Have Anything to Do
Having bad habits can be just as destructive as having no habits at all (which is a habit in itself!). When you're bored at home and looking for something to do, Smith tells us that "eating often becomes the easiest thing to do." If you want to banish your batwings—not build them—find evening activities that can keep you occupied. Smith recommends things like "reading, taking a bath, or calling a friend."