You eat well all day. You stick to the plan. You have willpower of steel at work, and decline all offers of food from coworkers. You only eat what you planned to eat. You even avoid snacking while making dinner, and eat a healthy meal instead. Then it all goes downhill. After dinner you have a dessert. Then some of the leftovers before you put them away. Then later you open a bag of chips while you're watching tv.
Sound familiar? You're not alone! Many people find the time of the day that's hardest to stick with their healthy eating plan is the evening! Read on for some tips on how to stop snacking at night!
What's the problem with snacking at night?
Inherently, there's nothing wrong per se with nighttime snacking. Contrary to popular belief, your metabolism doesn't go down while you're sleeping, such that anything you eat before bed gets stored as fat.
Let's consider the above example: sitting down on the couch with a bag of chips. While chips can fit into a healthful lifestyle in limited quantities, sitting on the couch with an open bag is a recipe for mindless snacking, and thus, no portion control. A handful of potato chips is around 150 calories. How many handfuls would you mindlessly munch? This type of habit makes the calories add up fast, and those are usually calories over your "budget" for the day. The story is the same for most other snacks: ice cream, cookies, crackers and cheese... the list goes on.
Another potential issue with snacking too close to bedtime is, for some people, it can cause heartburn or sleep disturbances. If you experience either of these, you might want to try not eating so close to bedtime and see how it affects you.
Why is it so hard to stop snacking at night?
For the most part, the difficulty lies in some deep seeded habits. And habits are hard to change, especially when we don't recognize them! Our whole lives are built around habit (routine), some of them contribute to our success and well-being, and some of them do not.
Most of us have stress in our days, even if it's little stresses. Someone cuts you off in traffic, a coworker doesn't show up and you have to do extra work, your cat throws up on the carpet... We do a good job of keeping it together throughout the whole day, and when we get home, we just want to relax and unwind. Herein lies the habit part. When we relax, we often revert back to unconsciously learned behaviors. When you were a kid and had a hard day at school, how did your mom (with the absolute best of intentions) try to make you feel better? With a cookie or other snack? While this example may not resonate with you exactly, I bet you can pinpoint something in your past that solidified your turning to snacks in times of stress.
Another thing I can often identify is simply that sitting in front of the tv and snacking in the evening has just become "what I do" over the years. It's as much part of the daily routine as brushing your teeth.
Regardless of how snacking in the evening came to be a reality for you, the truth is, that it's still a habit. And habits can be broken!
How can I break the habit?
First, let me give a few caveats here.
If you are truly hungry (and I mean actual physiological hunger, not boredom) in the evening, you should have a snack. Going to bed hungry won't help you sleep well. Plan the snack into your calorie budget for the day so it doesn't contribute too many calories. This also applies if you have diabetes or another condition in which you must eat more regularly.
If you've identified snacking in the evening as a problem for you, do not replace snacking on something unhealthy with snacking on something healthier. It's a real slippery slope back to unhealthy snacks.
Now, let's get to the part you probably came here for. Below are some ideas for how to stop snacking at night. Write down the ones you think would work for you, make a plan, and start tonight!
- Put all your leftovers away after you serve yourself and family dinner, before you start eating. You will be less likely to snack on them after dinner if they're already in the fridge.
- Do the dishes immediately after dinner. If the kitchen is clean, you may be less inclined to dirty more dishes.
- Brush your teeth or chew gum after dinner. Clean, fresh breath is a snacking deterrent.
- Make a list of things that need done around the house. When you're feeling "snacky" pick something on the list and do it instead.
- Get a new hobby. Take a class for painting, drawing, etc. Something to keep your hands busy is ideal.
- Build a puzzle (again, it keeps your hands - and mind - busy!).
- Read a book.
- Mix up your evening routine - sit somewhere different, watch a different tv show, etc. Be mindful of what you're watching. Watching Food Network might contribute to impulse snacking. Also look out for well-placed commercials for fast food and pizza joints. Running those ads between 8 and 10 at night is no accident!
- Play a board game.
- Take a dance class, exercise class, or try an exercise program on DVD.
- Go for a brisk walk.
- Take a bubble bath.
- Try yoga or meditation.
- Enjoy a cup of herbal tea (with no additions).
Whatever you decide, the key is to do something so you're not sitting there focusing on not snacking. Get busy doing something enjoyable. Create new habits by doing it consistently. In addition to avoiding the extra calories by not snacking, you'll also be burning additional calories AND enjoying it!
If you have more tips for how to stop snacking at night, let me know in the comments!