It seems no matter how resistant you are to snacks throughout the day, when those after-dinner-hours roll around you become a snack hound. My husband sums it up well when he stands in front of the panty about an hour after dinner and says, “must consume!”
Nighttime snacking is a constant battle for many of us, and it can feel like the harder you try to fight it, the stronger the urge. Just like any eating habits, there isn’t one reason we’re prone to snacking at night, but there are some common threads that many relate to:
- Lowered willpower
Whatever the driving factor(s), thoughtlessly stuffing unhealthy snacks into your body each night isn’t the best way to wind down your evening, physically or emotionally. You may hear things like, go on a walk, call a friend, take a bubble bath, and I don’t know about you, but when it’s January in Chicago you better believe the last thing I want to do is place one foot outside!
These are nice in theory, but if nighttime snacking is a routine, you need more realistic tactic. Here are five ways to try out this week when the nighttime snack monster awakes.
Shut Down the Kitchen
Going back to the kitchen for “a little something” is second nature when the lights are on, some leftovers are out, and there’re dishes on the counter. Subconsciously it seems open for business. Instead, once dinner is done, start the practice of shutting it down. Pack up leftovers (preferably before you eat but if the family is hangry maybe don’t test them!), get the dishes in the sink/dishwasher, wipe down the counter tops and turn off the lights.
This can be a little tricky with an open floor plan, but even though my living room morphs into the kitchen, there are still lights above the counter. Cleaning the surfaces (just a quick wipe!) makes things look finished and the act of cleaning up signals that eating time is done. Take it a step further by brushing your teeth!
I recognize and relate to after dinner being TV time. This is the first chance my husband and I get to sit together so long as one of us doesn’t have something to attend in the evening, and we like to watch at least one show together. But you know how well TV and snacking go together…
This is likely your highest risk of mindless snacking so find something else to do. I’ve gotten (way) into cross stitching, but if you aren’t crafty there are other options.
- Make your to-do list for tomorrow
- Get caught up on email
- Make your grocery list/menu plan for the week
- Work a small puzzle (this you can keep out and it will last you a while)
- Stretch/light yoga
- Iron/fold clothes
- Flip through a magazine/catalogue
Some of these are for those show you’re watching just to have something on. I know I’d be lambasted if I started flipping through a magazine during House of Cards, but I could certainly be stretching or folding clothes during it. The whole point is to occupy your hands, and if you do this long enough you could break the connection between TV and snacking.
Plan for a Healthier Alternative
This is what works for me the best. It’s the, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mentality and can save you hundreds of calories even though it involves eating!
Ballpark a time that you’ll have your nighttime snack to avoid grazing from dinner until bedtime, even on healthier fare. I like to wait at least an hour after dinner and give myself a minimum of a half hour before bed so I can digest. This way, you have in mind a time you’re going to enjoy your snack and won’t be obsessing over when to have it.
Think of a few snacks you would look forward to eating that are either healthy or could have a healthy alternative. Some ideas:
- Halo Top, Enlightened, Arctic Zero low calorie and protein packed “ices cream”
- Whole grain English muffin with jam
- Small yogurt with real fruit or nuts
- Whole grain waffle and honey
- Air popped popcorn and sea salt
- Whole grain crackers and cheese (put realistic amount on a plate, don’t take the box with you!)
- Banana or apple and peanut butter (again, don’t take the jar)
Fuel Yourself Properly for Your Day
This is a proactive approach, but could be the reason you feel ravenous at night. Have you heard the quote, “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper”? It’s solid nutrition advice but – at least in America – we tend to do the opposite. Many of us skip breakfast or subside on coffee and a bagel, work through lunch and get home starved.
Dinner seems to wake up that appetite you’ve ignored all day and your body thinks it’s time to refuel. The thing is, we expended the majority of our calories already and are going to be sedentary the rest of the evening. Not a good set up for success.
Take a few days to record what you eat in a food journal, and get rough idea of the calories you’re getting and how they’re dispersed throughout the day. If you notice the bulk of calories and your unhealthiest eating takes place from dinner onward, try adjusting to get more healthy calories at the start of your day.This doesn’t have to be a huge routine change, but if you eat a banana in the morning, try adding some peanut butter or a yogurt with it.
Make protein a priority to keep you fuller longer. Check out this post on eating for energy so you don’t hit the afternoon slump and give into every craving once you’re home.
Go to Bed Already!
Raise your hand if you go to bed an hour or more after you think, I should get to bed. Staying up late has a host of downsides for your health, and one of them is more snacking. (You can put your hand down now). The strategies above will help you combat snacking, but you won’t have to combat anything if you’re asleep.
I use my Fitbit to track the amount I actually sleep, and it’s made me more strict about going to bed by 10pm. If you’re a night owl, don’t attempt to go to bed 2 hours before you normally do. Instead, head to bed 15-20 minutes before you normally do and keep inching it up until you find a better balance for you.
Cutting down on the time you’re sitting in front of the TV with your mind wandering back to the food in the kitchen is the path of least resistance when it comes to nighttime snacking. Plus, you’ll get more sleep which sets you up for more willpower and better healthy decision making the next day!