If you find yourself snacking late at night on the couch while you are watching TV, you are certainly not alone. Late-night snacking is a struggle for many people and, although there is nothing wrong with eating at night if you are hungry, more often than not late-night snacking is done out of ritual, boredom, and stress, as opposed to actual hunger. So, if this is you, here are some simple ways to curb late-night snacking and help get you back in control.
How to Stop Snacking at Night
Here are 9 different strategies to help curb those late-night cravings.
1. Eat a larger dinner.
If you are the type of person who opts for light meals all day long thinking that you are doing yourself a favor, you may want to re-think your strategy. Eating well is not about avoiding calories or minimizing your food intake, it is about eating to the point of satiety and then stopping. So, if you tend to eat a light breakfast, a light lunch, and a light dinner, only to find yourself starving in the evening, it’s time to flip the script. Instead of opting for a tiny portion at your meals, eat until you are full because you are more likely to make healthy choices at mealtime than at midnight when you’re looking for a treat.
2. Don’t skip meals.
The key to curbing your cravings is not only to change your choices at that moment but to consider all of the other choices that lead to your cravings throughout the day. If you regularly skip breakfast, skip lunch, or don’t eat until dinner time, it is no wonder you find yourself snacking at night – you’re simply hungry! The issue with this is not the fact that you are hungry, there is nothing wrong with that, but rather it is the type of choices that we make late at night when we do feel hungry. It’s rare that people are reaching for scrambled eggs and salads in the evening, instead, it’s convenience packaged goods that can be eaten on the couch.
3. Eat Balanced Meals
Not only is eating enough food important, but ensuring that you eat a good balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in your meals can also help to curb cravings. Generally speaking, protein is the most forgotten macronutrient and it also happens to be the most satiating, so by undereating it you can leave yourself looking for an extra treat later on. So, to help mitigate this, ensure that you eat well-balanced meals throughout the day, complete with protein and fat, to help balance your blood sugar and minimize mindless late-night snacking.
4. Go to bed.
Although this suggestion may seem silly, it’s really important. Not only is prioritizing sleep important for general health and well-being, but the number of hours we sleep greatly affects our hunger cues. The first and most obvious reason why sleep matters is because the amount of sleep you get directly affects how much food you put in your mouth. However, the second and more influential reason is that lack of sleep contributes to hormone imbalances in insulin, leptin, and cortisol which have a profound on our cravings and hunger signals. When you deprive yourself of sleep, ghrelin, the hormone that drives hunger goes up, and PYY, the hormone that makes you feel full, goes down. So, by staying up late at night not only are you giving yourself more hours to eat during the date, but you are setting yourself up for more cravings the following day as well.
5. Break associations.
So many of our eating habits and hunger cues are triggered by routines. If you have a routine of changing into loose comfortable clothing after dinner and vegging out in front of the TV for hours only to zone out while you mindlessly snack, you may want to reconsider your routine. In fact, if you can’t imagine TV time without a snack in hand you may want to reconsider your post-dinner activity altogether.
6. Step away from the screens.
Screen time, everything from watching TV to browsing on your iPad has been linked to mindless eating and increased food intake. Eating in front of the TV, while playing video games, or surfing the Internet can distract attention from what and how much you eat, reduce satiety signals sent to the brain and lessen memory of snacking. It is for this reason that when you’re watching a movie your hand is hitting the bottom of the popcorn bowl before you even realize it’s empty.
7. Only eat while sitting at the table.
Eating directly out of the bag in the kitchen? Eating on the couch? Eating in bed? If you notice your food intake occurring all over the house I would recommend implementing a simple rule; only eat while sitting at the dinner table. This small adjustment can make a world of difference and make you more mindful of your food intake as you force yourself to sit down, slow down, and chew, as opposed to just cramming food into your mouth while looking for more food in the pantry.
8. Transition your snacks.
Cutting back on late-night snacking is a lot easier said than done, especially if it is a habit you have built over a number of years. If you’ve been eating cookies and chips on the couch every night for the past 20 years just telling yourself to cut it out cold turkey tomorrow is probably not that realistic. Instead, start by focusing on what you are eating. For instance, if you always have a bowl of ice cream, try swapping it for flavored yogurt, then try swapping that for plain yogurt with berries, then try swapping it for a cup of tea. This transition period may take a month, even years, but if you simply focus on making a better food choice it will help make the transition a whole lot easier than simply stopping the habit altogether.
9. Ask yourself why.
Although there are many strategies that you can implement in order to help curb late-night snacking, the real solution is to find the root cause and ask yourself why. Why am I snacking? Am I hungry? Stressed? Sad? Tired? Bored? We often use food to deal with our emotions since it gives us a moment of temporary relief and pleasure, especially processed food. Our bodies are equipped with natural built-in systems that tell us when we are hungry, when we are not hungry, when to eat more, and when to stop eating, however, junk food is designed in a way that overrides all of those built-in systems. To no surprise, eating junk food can bring a great deal of pleasure, and it can stimulate your body’s reward system. This system was designed to “reward” you when you do things that encourage survival, including eating, and when this happens your brain releases feel-good chemicals, including dopamine. In fact, a recent study published in the International Journal of Obesity found that participants who felt stressed saw their levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin rise in the evening, which can cause them to eat more whether they are hungry or not.
The first step to curbing your late-night snacking is not just cutting it out, it’s figuring out what is triggering it in the first place. Simple tools like not skipping meals, tracking your meals, and stepping away from screens can help, but what is most important is thinking about why you are reaching for snacks in the first place. If the answer is that you are hungry, perfect, go ahead and eat, but if the answer is that you are bored, stressed, or tired, you may want to consider other lifestyle factors that can help to minimize the impact that these issues have on your hunger cues.
The Bottom Line
Eating at night if you are hungry is not a problem, but if you make a habit out of snacking late at night just for the sake of it, you may want to consider what is triggering it and how you can support the root cause. It’s important to keep in mind that changing eating habits is hard work and takes time, so don’t expect to fix things overnight. Do your best to bring some mindfulness to your eating habits and focus on the quality of food that you are choosing whenever possible. There is nothing wrong with having a treat, but if you are having it frequently at the expense of your own health and happiness it is something that you might want to pay attention to.