by The FIRM nutrition expert Sara Ryba, R.D., C.D.N.
I remember my first sleepover as a young child, when my friend’s mom said we could have a midnight snack. It was so exciting to be able to eat junk food so late at night!
Of course, my opportunities to gorge like that were few and far between. But regular late-night noshing plagues many of us and can cause weight problems if you don’t control it.
Do you find that you consume too many calories after dinner? Are you continually returning to the kitchen for “one more thing”? Do you wake up in the morning annoyed that you snacked too much the night before? If so, you are not alone. Studies have suggested that people feel less inhibited to overdo the snacks after dark.
So, let’s do something about it! Nighttime eating is my weight-loss clients’ single most common obstacle. But it is a challenge worth taking on, as conquering this habit will open the door to long-lasting, successful weight loss.
The first thing that you need to do is break the cycle. The habit of consuming the majority of your calories late in the day is an eating pattern that is highly correlated with obesity. By breaking the cycle and reducing the number of calories you eat at night, your body will actually begin to feel hungrier earlier in the day and less hungry later in the day. Below, you will find some strategies to help you break this bad habit:
1. Come up with a snack plan: Figure out how many calories you are going to allocate for post-dinner snacks. I usually suggest that we set the limit at about 150 calories, but it can be a bit higher if your schedule is such that you are awake for many hours after dinner. Once you have your calorie allowance figured out, think about some foods that would satisfy you while staying within your allowance. Purchase those “approved” snacks, and stick with your plan.
2. Keep a journal: Now that you have your list of post-dinner snacks (equaling around 150 calories), start a snack journal (it could just be a piece of paper you keep on the fridge). Each day, write down what you are planning to have as your late-night snack. Then go back and check off that you had it and write down if you had anything else, or perhaps didn’t snack at all. This type of self-monitoring really DOES work!
3. Consider your evening activities: Plan to keep yourself busy after dinner. If at all possible, avoid sitting in front of the TV or computer. Sitting in front of a screen will only make you want to eat more. If you can’t avoid it, try to do it in a place where you would not ordinarily want to eat (like your bed).
4. Use your hands: Try to use your hands after dinner. Maybe take up knitting while watching TV, or do your nails and toes while relaxing. This type of “active” relaxing will make you less likely to snack.
5. Go to bed: I find that a lot of people confuse fatigue with hunger. We think we are hungry, but in reality we are tired. If you feel that urge to get “one more snack,” brush your teeth and jump into bed!