How To Curb Late Night Snacking

Some say it's natural to look for food and want to eat before we settle in and go to bed. It's thought to be a primal instinct - our "inner caveman" wants to make sure our stomach is full before we go to sleep just in case there's no food to be found tomorrow.

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This seems especially apparent with people who are dieting. For them, the last few hours of the day can be very problematic. In that situation, there are three things going on 1) They restricted food all day long, 3) They're hungry, and now 3) Their body is going into its natural forage and hunt mode. For others, they make great choices during the day, but then find themselves snacking after dinner or late at night. This usually has nothing to do with hunger. In fact, a  lot of emotional eating goes on at night - so for many, it could be that they're eating because they're feeling bored, sad, lonely, tired, stressed or anxious over what the next day might bring.

Unlike our ancestors, we don't need to look very far - all we need to do is open a cabinet, refrigerator, or the freezer ...aaaaah, the ice cream! Unfortunately, late night snacking could result in a viscious cycle of poor eating habits and sabotage how you eat the next day. Going to bed full may make you feel full in the morning, and you may even want to skip breakfast. Skipping breakfast could lead to late afternoon hunger pangs, leaving you famished and stuffing anything and everything into your mouth when you walk in the door after work. It could also lead to adding in more calories at dinnertime, or feeling like you need something else after a satisfying dinner.  Maybe it's just a few handfuls of nuts or chips, a couple of cookies, or a piece of cake - but it only takes an extra 200 calories a night to pack on an extra 20 pounds per year. Cut that snacking down to half that and you've just lost 10 pounds! Sounds great, right? Well here are five tips to curb that late night snacking.

  1. Eat Throughout the Day. Instead of bottom loading your calories (eating them all at night), eat consistently throughout the day. Spreading calories throughout the day will help prevent you from compensating at other times during the day, especially in the evening
  2. Balance Your Meals. Eating foods high in protein and fiber are going to help you feel full and satisfied throughout the day. Try to get between 25-30 grams of protein per meal. For fiber, women should strive for 25 grams, while men should aim to get 38 grams per day from foods. Examples per meal are as follows:
    • Breakfast: Two Egg Whites (7 g protein), Two slices of Whole Wheat Toast (8 g protein + 6 g fiber), 5.3 oz of Greek Yogurt (12+ g protein) with 1/4 cup of walnuts (5 g protein + 2 g fiber), and 1/2 cup Blueberries (1g protein + 2 g fiber). Too much food? Save the yogurt, berries, and nuts, or some fruit with nut butter for a mid-morning snack.
    • Lunch: One cup of salad (1 gram protein + 1 gram fiber) with 1 cup of sliced Raw Peppers (1 gram protein + 3 grams fiber) or 1 cup of Cherry Tomatoes (3 grams protein + 3 grams fiber) or 1/2 cup of each, plus 1/2 cup of Garbanzo Beans (6 grams protein + 6 grams fiber) and 1/4 cup of Wheat Berries (3 grams protein + 2 grams fiber) or 1/2 cup of Quinoa (4 grams protein + 3 grams fiber), plus 4 oz of Salmon (25 g protein) or 3 oz of Chicken (27 grams protein).
    • Dinner: 1/2 Cup Basmati Brown Rice (6 g protein + 4 grams fiber), with 4 oz of Salmon (25 g protein) or 3 oz of Chicken (27 grams protein) or 3 oz of lean Steak (26 g protein). Add a Salad with Vegetables, as above, and you'll get 2 more grams of protein and 7 more grams of fiber.
    • Note: If you are not eating 2-3 cups of vegetables per day and 2 cups of fruit per day during mealtimes, then add them in as snacks throughout the day. This will help to increase your fiber intake to keep you full, and regular!
  3. Plan Your Late Night Snack. If after dinner you enjoy grabbing a snack before you relax in front of the television, play a video game, or sit in front of the computer, then plan your snack. This includes planning what and how much you will eat. Planning can help keep you from grabbing high fat or highly processed snacks. Planning is key especially since you will likely be distracted by the TV, video game, or the computer. The ideal of course is to be mindful of what you're eating -  but who is mindful when the goal is to relax and unwind after dinner? Nonetheless, calories can add up quickly when you eat mindlessly, so planning what and how much can help you avoid this pitfall. Some suggestions (all about 100 calories) are as follows:
    • 1-1 1/2 cups of fruit, or 1 cup of grapes
    • 1 cup sliced jicama with 1 tablespoon hummus
    • Cottage cheese and wedge of cantaloupe
    • Baked apple with cinnamon
    • Three cups of air popped or low fat/salt microwave popcorn
    • One fudge or fruit popsicle
    • 1/2 cup of slow churned ice cream
    • An apple or banana with 1 tbsp nut butter or 1 oz of cheese
    • 1 oz of cheese and 5-6 whole grain crackers
    • 3/4 cup of sweetened whole grain cereal (like Honey Nut Cheerios)
    • Two graham crackers
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Cottage Cheese and Melon

These all seem pretty healthy, right? But what if you just really want your favorite cookies, cake, pastry, chips, beer, or wine? (Yeah - remember those liquid calories add up too!). Whatever it is that your jonesing for, think of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the time you are making healthy choices, and 20% you indulge. Either way, planning "everyday" and "sometimes" snacks can help you feel satisfied, while avoiding extra calories.

4. Go to Bed! Sleep deprivation can really interfere with your hunger hormones. Adults need 7-8 hour every night, and teens need about 9 hours every night. The research shows that sleep-deprived people eat more total overall calories, and eat more late at night than people who had a regular bedtime, and were well-rested.

5. Check In: If you are regularly hungry after dinner, ask yourself if you're eating enough throughout the day. If you are truly hungry, keep a food log to see where you may be skimping on protein, fiber, and overall calories throughout the day.

Check in with your hydration status, too. Sometimes after eating a meal that is heavily seasoned with salt, you might find yourself craving sweets when really, your body needs some water. This can be particularly true after eating foods prepared in a restaurant.

So listen to your body, check in with your emotions, and determine if you are hungry or just thirsty. Plan your "everyday" snack foods by making sure they are readily available, while enjoying your "sometimes" snack foods as a special treat. Lastly, keep in mind that planning your meals and snacks throughout the day is key, but so is planning your sleep.

Need help with your planning?

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