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.
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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 often times results in overeating.
8. 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.
9. …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 recent 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.
10. 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.
11. 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!
12. 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.