Since my post “What Your Cravings Are Telling You + How To Overcome Them” on Mind Body Green earlier this week was so popular, I decided to do a follow up here, focusing more on late-night eating.
You’ve had your meals for the day, dinner is done and put away, and yet you still find yourself wandering to the kitchen in search of something to eat, something sweet, or a midnight snack. 1 or 2 cookies before bed won’t hurt, right?
Late night snacking turns out to be quite problematic. First, it can negatively impact sleep as your body tries to digest instead of fully entering rest and repair mode. (You may dream more instead of falling into the much needed deep sleep). Second, spiking blood sugar before bed means all that sugar is going to be stored as fat because you won’t be burning it off right away. Then, once the body has converted and stored the sugar, blood sugar again drops and in some people it can drop too low causing them to wake up in the middle of the night hungry again. Third, adding more calories at the end of a full day of meals probably means excess calories which leads to weight gain.
A research study on mice, presented in The Atlantic indicates the consequences of late night eating may be even more severe. “[T]he mice who had eaten high-fat diets round the clock had a number of health problems, including weight gain, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, liver damage, and even motor problems when put to an exercise challenge.”
We know the consequences of late-night snacking add up, particularly if you’re on a diet or trying to lose weight, yet, we still do it.
Understanding Late-Night Snacking
There are a number of reasons that late-night eating is so tempting.
- Perhaps it has become a habit: having a snack while watching late-night TV is a routine that helps you decompress from the day.
- If you’re eating high-carb foods, they could be providing dopamine and serotonin that elevate mood after a crappy day.
- If you’re eating a ton of food (e.g. bingeing), it could be forcing your body into digest mode, and out of a stressful state (your body can’t be totally stressed and digest a large amount of food simultaneously).
- Maybe you’ve trained your taste buds to expect something sweet after every meal, or at least in the evenings–just like Pavlov’s dogs, your body is conditioned to expect something sweet.
- If you just find yourself wandering around the kitchen looking for something to satisfy you, it could be boredom, procrastination, or wanting to fill a void of something incomplete or left unresolved from the day.
- Another possibility is because decision-making ability and willpower diminish over the course of a day, meaning the good intentions you start the day with just don’t hold up anymore, so you decide your diet isn’t that important or a cookie really won’t hurt your goals.
- Research also suggests the body is programmed (from our leaner days) to crave sugar, starch, and salt in the evenings as a way to store extra calories and fat to help us get through a long winter.
Some would argue late-night snacking boils down to two main reasons: comfort or boredom. While I believe that is an oversimplification, only you can decide for yourself what your reasons are for wanting to munch on something after dinner.
With all of the numerous reasons, biological drives, habits, and temptations, you might be thinking it is impossible to quit snacking in the late evening. But in truth, it is possible.
Combating Late-Night Snacking
There are a number of ways, depending on your own triggers, temptations, and trip-ups that may be helpful in combating late-night snacking.
Manage Your Stress
In any inappropriate or inexplicable eating situation, stress nearly always plays a role. Start with becoming aware of your stress, your discomforts, your unease, your feelings of being unfulfilled, unsatisfied, or unresolved. Then find something that helps you deal with the uncomfortable feelings or stress.
Try meditation; you can get apps for your smart phone that will guide you through a meditation (and may even lull you off to sleep). My favorite mediation apps are Omvana and Headspace.
Explore EFT-tapping–a process by which you gently tap certain acupuncture/meridian points while stating how you feel. This can help calm the central nervous system, release negative energy from the the body, and calm the mind. Both meditation and tapping are remarkable practices that alleviate feelings of being empty, unfulfilled, unresolved, inadequate, or insecure, and once these feeling aren’t so strong, there is far less of a void wanting to be filled with food.
You can take herbs that help with stress relief such as adaptogenic herbs or calming herbs: rhodiola, gynostemma, eleuthero, valerian, or passion flower are a few to look for. Just the act of preparing a hot herbal drink can be very meditative and calming, relieving tension and unease.
Exercise or taking a walk can also help to shake off some of the stress. Deep breathing, too, convinces the body it is safe and compels it to switch out of stress mode. For some people, sleep helps to reduce stress–no one will judge if you go to bed early.
Make a New Habit
Habits guide so much of our lives: they provide routines, structure, and schedule to our day. They can be good or bad. More importantly, they can be changed, and while it may seem strange at first, eventually new (hopefully healthier) activities become routine and those routines become habits. Be patient and forgiving with yourself, new habits can take a while to get established, but do your best to push them forward everyday.
Is your dinner heavily based on carbohydrates? Eating carbs makes your body crave more starchy and sweeter foods (it is a vicious cycle!). Try switching out the main carb source for more veggies and increasing the quantity of protein. The fiber in the veggies plus the protein will make you feel more satiated, and avoid carb cravings.
If your current habit is to find something sweet after dinner, immediately go and brush your teeth when you’ve finished the main meal. A clean, minty fresh mouth isn’t nearly as interested in sweets.
If you have a tendency to eat the scraps or leftovers as you’re putting away dinner, start a compost bin instead. Know that you’re going to be feeding the plants (instead of yourself) and therefore the food won’t go to waste; it’ll be put to better use.
If you normally hang out in or near the kitchen, try spending your evening in the garage or bedroom, or any place farther away from the kitchen.
If you’re accustomed to watching TV after dinner which leaves you wanting a snack, now is the time to take up a post-dinner walking habit, engage in your favorite hobby, journal, have a real conversation with your family, or do household chores.
Find a Better Distraction
Sometimes evenings are just a time of boredom and food seems the easy way to fill the emptiness and entertain yourself. So find a better distraction–something that keeps your attention, that occupies your hands, and prevents you from thinking about food.
For example, have story or playtime with your kids, get cozy or intimate with your partner, talk on the phone to a friend, or engross yourself in a new book. Try keeping you hands busy with knitting or another hobby you enjoy.
If you need something to hold in your hands, try a warm herbal infusion: something calming like lemon balm, lavender, chamomile, or a pre-mixed sleep blend.
If you’re sleeping, you’re not snacking. Am I right? Experts suggest waiting at least 3 hours after a meal to digest before going to sleep, so if you’re 5 hours post-dinner and wanting a snack, you probably should already be asleep. Plus, sleep is fundamental to eating right and preventing weight gain.
If you’ve long been a victim of the late-night snack attack, moving on to healthier (food-free) habits may take awhile. Don’t stress over it, don’t blame yourself. Have patience and forgive yourself, but most importantly, keep taking steps in the right direction. All those small actions and good intentions will, overtime, help you enjoy your evening without food, without feeling deprived, and achieve better health!
Leave a comment and let us know what you do (or have done) to avoid snacking or temptation in the late evening hours.
Image Source: MSVG on Flickr