The urge to snack at night is real. According to a recent poll, 83% of Americans say they snack at night at least once a week and 20% make it a nightly ritual. And most of these people said they don’t feel in control of their nighttime snacking so they feel guilty about this habit and wish they could stop. If you’re worried you may be overdoing it, here are some tips to help you stop snacking at night.
Snacking at night and weight gain
The poll showed that most people snack less healthfully at night, with top choices being foods, like pretzels, chips, ice cream, cookies, and candy. Whether you’re eating these foods or others, if you’re snacking excessively at night, it can lead to a calorie surplus that may promote weight gain or stall weight loss. Indeed, studies have shown that snacking at night is linked to higher body weights. This isn’t just about the snack choices, but may also be related to the pattern of eating that’s typical of night snackers who skip breakfast, eat a light lunch, and then snack well into the night.
How to stop this habit: To disrupt this pattern and stop snacking at night, try having three meals a day at routine times (more or less). So for example, have breakfast within three hours of waking up and then try to space meals at least four to five hours apart after that. If you’re not hungry first thing, try having something small in order to break the pattern of snacking at night. For example, you might start with some fruit and a little yogurt or a boiled egg. When you reduce your nighttime eating, you’ll likely find that you do begin to get hungrier in the morning.
Snacking at night and emotional eating
When you’re feeling lonely, bored, tired, and stressed, it’s natural to reach for a snack to soothe these feelings. This is especially true these days as we’ve been spending more time at home. It’s this idle time at night that can leave us more vulnerable to snacking.
How to stop this habit: To break this cycle, examine what triggers the urge to snack and then pause and ask yourself if a snack is going to be the best way to address what you’re feeling. For example, if you’re lonely, is a snack going to fill that void? Or might it be better to call a friend or find a Facebook group with people who share a similar interest to connect with? Granted, it’s unrealistic to think that you’re NEVER going to turn to food for comfort, but it’s possible to curb this habit so that you feel better emotionally and physically.
Snacking at night and cravings
Your body’s internal clock is hard-wired to crave sweet, starchy, and salty food at night, according to research published in the journal, Obesity. So to some degree, you can blame your biology for nighttime snacking. This habit might’ve served your ancestors who needed to fill up on food and store fat in case of a scarcity, but it doesn’t serve you in modern times.
How to stop this habit: First, take a look at your dinner habits and make sure you’re eating a balanced and filling meal. Ideally, your dinner includes a heaping pile of non-starchy veggies, four to six ounces of protein (poultry, seafood, eggs, and pulses are good options), and a small portion of a healthy starchy food, such brown rice, sweet potato, or fingerling potatoes. It also includes a couple of tablespoons of healthy fat, whether that means your food is cooked in EVOO or you add some nuts, olives, or avocado slices to your meal (or a mix of each). When you eat a balanced dinner, you’re giving your body the things it craves (such as salt and carbs) in a healthier way. A balanced dinner will also make you feel physically satisfied, so you’re less likely to wander in the kitchen later on.
Healthier nighttime snacks
If you determine that you’re physically hungry after dinner, it’s better to have a healthy snack than to skip it. In these instances, you want to have something light enough so your snack doesn’t interfere with your sleep, filling enough so it satisfies your hunger, and nourishing enough so you can give your body the nutrients it needs to do it’s nighttime work of sleeping and repairing and healing your body. Some ideas:
Make a smoothie with two kiwis, a handful of baby spinach, unsweetened vanilla almond milk, ⅓ avocado, and 1 Tbsp. hemp seeds. In one study, people slept 35 minutes longer after consuming two kiwifruits before bedtime. The reason: This nighttime snack has high concentrations of serotonin, which is a precursor to melatonin--the hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles.
Have a banana, split and topped with pumpkin seeds and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Pumpkin seeds supply magnesium, which is a mineral associated with better sleep.
Zap a mixture of frozen tart and sweet cherries in the microwave and top with a spoonful each of plain yogurt and chia seeds. Tart cherries are a natural source of melatonin, and studies link juice made from the fruit to improvements in sleep quality and duration.
If you need a little extra support to cut back on snacking at night, get in touch to see how I work with people one on one. You can schedule a complimentary call HERE. If you’re looking for some easy, balanced meal and snack suggestions, you can download a free recipe booklet HERE.
Enjoy! And be well!