|Time and time again I hear about people who are so “good” all day, but come nighttime, raid the refrigerator. A lot of us have our moments when we finally settle down after a long day, the kids are having dessert or asleep (!), or we just want to finish up that last bit of work, that last chapter, the last few dishes in the sink, and we cave in to temptations. How do we break the cycle of late night snacking or binging?
Let’s first explore the top 5 reasons people snack at night:
- They didn’t eat enough all day because of lack of time, they “forgot”, they didn’t have access to food, etc. and by night they are “starving”.
- Their minds are in the habit of nighttime snacking and it’s a hard habit to break. People can be conditioned to sitting in front of the TV/computer/with a book/etc. with a snack. Often this type of eating is completely mindless eating. People will open a bag of chips or cookies, sit down and realize later they finished the bag. They don’t know how they could possibly have finished it; there is often guilt associated, and sometimes denial. They think, “Let me throw away the bag, hide the remains, or replace the item the next day hoping no one notices”. Or they make several quick trips into the kitchen to grab just one more bite or spoonful.
- Their body gets used to having snacks at night, and the body craves what it is used to at a certain time. Foods high in sugar, salt and fat are usually the biggest culprits: ice cream, cheese, crackers, chips and dips, Chinese food, pizza, and fast foods/fried foods. The body is craving food, or a certain food, just like “Pavlov’s Dog”. The body wants what it thinks is coming.
- They are tired. When you are tired you get hungry, and because sugar acts as a quick source of energy, being tired can make you crave sugar. So people go get a snack and feel like they have the extra energy to finish their project, their book, or make the extra updates to their social media outlets. What the body needs most is sleep, but they push the limits and burn the candle on both ends. Lack of adequate sleep is actually linked to obesity and many diseases like heart disease.
- It’s so emotional! It can be quite comforting to snack each night with a friend/spouse/kids and people don’t want to break that commitment/relationship or disappoint the other person. If you are lonely, food can be your companion. It can be a reward system to the self, such as “I dieted all day so I deserve it”, “I am so stressed out so it’s OK if I eat this just this once”, or “I’ll just eat this now and start the diet tomorrow”. Food can also be comforting if it helps you get ready for bed. Remember “cookies and milk” from your childhood, late night snacking from the college days, or think a glass of wine will make you feel sleepy? These all may be comforting, but also emotional, and the emotions are not hunger signs.
How to Avoid the Night Time Snack Attack:
- Eat a balanced diet during the day. Eat 3 meals a day and plan for a healthy snack in the early evening to prevent cravings. Make sure your meals and snacks have some protein and/or healthy fat.
- Break bad habits. Keep food in the kitchen, at the table, and at mealtimes. Do not allow yourself to bring food into the TV room or office. Just as the bedroom should be used only for sleeping (and a select few other things), the office should be used for working. Break the sugar cycle by eliminating high sugar foods for 3 weeks. By then you will have kicked the "addiction" and be eating a healthier diet.
- If you do have a snack, plan in advance what it will be and how big it will be. Something that takes longer to chew will have a longer acting effect in your belly and you will eat less. Things that have fiber, protein, healthy fats will help stabilize your blood sugar throughout the night. Think of fruits with low fat yogurt or cottage cheese, veggies with natural peanut butter or hummus, 1 slice of whole wheat bread with almond butter and slices strawberries, a handful of raw cashews and an orange.
- Go to sleep. If you are really tired just turn off your mind, turn off the lights, and let your body rest and restore. Try exercising or yoga during the day; this helps you sleep.
- Seal the meal. After dinner have a small dessert or snack and then brush your teeth (and floss), have a cup of herbal tea ready, and don't have anything else. You are done. Congratulate yourself for a wonderful day and write down what you want to accomplish the following day.
Sleep Camp is a program to help you get a better night rest. Simply follow the 4 easy steps to lead you towards sweet dreams.