Updated: Oct 29
Do you find yourself eating in the evenings when you know you’re not really hungry?
If you said yes, you're not alone. It's one of the top complaints of my clients, doing so "good" all day long, only to wind up face down in a bowl of chips or ice cream every night.
Nighttime snacking can be a culprit for extra calories and subsequent weight gain. And it often becomes a habit that's hard to break if you've been doing it a while.
The truth is, most of our late night snacking happens for other reasons than actual hunger. But with the right tips, tools and strategies, it can be done.
Why does it happen? Here are a few of the most triggers:
You limit what you eat during the day. Restricting food all day long and skipping meals will often lead to overeating later in the evening. Whether it's a case of the hangries (hungry + angry), a spike in food cravings, or operating from the mindset of "I've been good" all day. You may think "it's no big deal, I didn't eat much today" but the truth is, restricting food or skipping meals typically leads to greater calorie consumption at night, in fact, studies show you tend to eat more than the rest of the day combined.
You eat with your emotions. If you’re feeling stressed, bored, lonely, sad, angry, or any other emotion, emotional eating can trigger you to reach for the chips, cookies or ice cream. It’s common to feel more in control of your eating habits during the daytime, especially if you have a fairly structured day that doesn’t allow “free” eating. Most of us have more downtime in the evenings, which can lead to all sorts of thoughts and emotions surfacing from the day. How do you know if it's emotional versus hunger? Emotional eating is strong and urgent, whereas real hunger ebbs and flows. If you feel a strong sudden urge, try pausing and asking "am I really hungry?" to help determine what you really need most in that moment.
You eat strictly out of habit. If you tend to snack when you’re sitting in front of the television, scrolling your smartphone or sitting in front of the computer, it could be that you're eating simply out of habit. Often referred to as "autopilot" eating, your brain knows what you do most, and tries to make it easier on by making it an unconscious habit. Great for brushing your teeth, not so great when your reaching for the chips at 9 p.m. For example, if you typically open a bottle of wine and grab a heaping bowl of popcorn to sit down and enjoy the Thursday night t.v. line up, you may find you begin to do it more frequently, suddenly doing it on Monday and Tuesday nights too.
You deserve a “reward” for a busy or stressful day. Maybe things didn’t quite go as you'd planned, you wound up with extra work on your plate, or you just made it through an especially difficult day. Your brain may tell you that you "deserve" that sweet treat or salty snack to make up for it. It's your brains way of trying to soothe and calm emotions from the day, another form of emotional eating. Instead of reaching for food, try asking yourself what you could do instead. Go for a walk? Soak in a warm bath? Read a good book?
What if none of these seem to apply? It may just be biology. According to a study published in the Obesity research journal, the body’s internal clock spikes your hunger levels at around 8pm. And guess what kind of snacks you’re more likely to want at this time? Not carrots or strawberries, typically sweet and salty high carb snacks, like chips, cookies, and pizza.
Tips to help reduce late night snacking:
A lot of late night snacking is mindless eating, which means you're often eating on autopilot, distracted and not fully present with food. How many times do you find yourself snacking in front of the television or while you’re cooking… without even thinking about what you’re doing or realizing how much you're eating?
And chances are, you’re not even aware of how much extra you’re actually eating when that happens. One way to avoid this is through mindful eating. Start by removing any distractions that stop you from being fully present with your food and start to make sitting down to eat at the table or countertop bar a priority. Take sips of water between bites, set the fork down to slow the eating process. Notice the smells, tastes, and textures of your food as you eat. Mindful eating is one of the simplest and most effective ways to get back in touch with your body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, helping you to stop at enough before you feel stuffed.
Change Your Routine
If you notice you do a lot of your nighttime eating as part of your evening routine, it’s time to break the habit by replacing it with something new.
For example, instead of snacking while you watch television, try doing something else while you catch up with your shows, especially during commercial breaks (which can trigger late night snacking by featuring junk food). If you enjoy crafting like knitting or crochet, do that, or if one of your goals is to get in more exercise, use that time to do leg lifts, crunches or squats, maybe you have a bit of ironing that can be done. In some cases it's as simple as closing the kitchen and heading to bed. These are all great and productive habits that help break the bad habit cycle.
Next time you get the urge to start snacking in an evening, pause and ask yourself, "am I really hungry?" If the answer is yes, some veggie sticks and hummus or an apple or banana with nut butter should suffice. If the answer is no, then drink a big glass of water and wait 15-20 minutes. That's the average amount of time it takes for an emotional craving to pass and it you're eating out of habit, enough time to break the pattern.
If after the time has passed, you still want whatever it is you were craving, then go ahead and serve up a single serving and enjoy it, distraction free. In many cases, you'll be surprised how quickly the craving passes.
Are you tired of starting over every Monday, hopping from diet to diet, wondering if you'll ever get it "right" so that you can lose the weight and become the best version of you? I’ve got you friend! Come join me inside my FREE women’s-only Facebook community: Eat Better with Coach Mindy. It's for busy women like you who are ready to lose weight, gain energy, get healthy and fit -- without restrictive diets or punishing food rules.