There are many obstacles to face when you decide to eat healthy or try to lose weight. One of the more challenging things can be controlling the late night hunger. Most people stick to the plan great until dinner rolls around. Then it is back to those pesky habits of munching and possibly even binging, which can set you back on your goals.
A recent study in the Journal of Obesity says it might be our internal clock to blame. Historically, this need to reach for sweet or starchy foods late at night was thought to help our ancestors store fat when food was scarce. But in our world of abundance, it is taking a toll on our health and our waistline.
For many people, eating is mindless. It is done while driving to work, on the phone, or watching the latest episode of your favorite TV series. Mindless eating means you are not clued in to hunger cues and eat more than you should. Combine this with late night cravings for unhealthy foods and you can be adding hundreds of extra calories each night. Shifting your thoughts about food to fueling for activity can help. Eating the bulk of your food at night when you aren’t very active results in more fuel than your body needs, resulting in the a surplus that gets sent to fat storage.
If your nightly routine involves eating more than you would like, make a conscious effort to break the pattern. Try changing the order of your evening activities. If you tend to munch anytime you are near the kitchen, avoid the area after dinner. Distract yourself with a hobby or spending time outside. If you sit down in front of the TV with a bowl of treats, try turning off the TV and get some of your weekend chores done early!
If you are worn out when you get home from work it can be easier to go out or reach for snack foods. But putting healthy options that will get you full is key to avoiding late night snacking. Keep the fridge stocked with fresh fruits and vegetables that are easy to grab. If you don’t like to cook your protein because it takes too long, buy pre-cooked alternatives so you can throw together meals quickly. Healthy meals do not have to be elaborate; they just take a little planning!
Anxiety and stress are main causes why people eat when they are not hungry. But using food to heal emotions is a bad idea. If you notice you eat a lot when you come home from a stressful day at work, try doing something to relax before you come home or right as you get home. Meditation, Yoga & hot baths are great ways to get rid of stress.
Be accountable to yourself. Keeping a food journal can be very beneficial to understanding what your worst snacking times are and what causing you to reach for the cold cereal right before bed. If you have been overestimating your body’s needs, underestimating how much you eat and engaging in mindless eating, a food journal can help keep you honest and allow you to make some changes.
Sleep is another great tool for avoiding the late night fast food runs. Your body craves food because it needs fuel and energy to stay awake. Staying up late increases our odds of overeating and many studies have linked lack of sleep to weight gain. Prior to the inventions of the light bulb (not to mention TV, smartphones and laptops) we slept 10 hours per night. Now, the average is less than 7! Set a bedtime (preferably 3-4 hours after dinner for optimal digestion) and stick to it.
Finally, if you eat regular meals throughout the day, you are less likely to snack at night. Eating at planned intervals throughout the day in line with “normal” eating patterns can help to manage your blood sugar levels and prevent feelings of “starvation’ or extreme hunger which often lead to binge sessions. When you get really hungry, you make poorer food choices and reach for high fat, high sugar, junk foods. Also, eating balanced meals can increase satiety and help you feel fuller longer so you don’t have the hunger pains that lead you to snack. It also helps to get rid of any of the foods that tempt you to eat late at night. Cold cereal, chips, crackers, cookies, ice cream, etc. You don’t have to cut them out completely. But by not bringing them into the house you increase your chances of not reaching for them mindlessly or out of boredom.
Nighttime eating has been linking to excess calories, obesity and poor health. If eating at night is keeping you from your health goals, try some of these tactics to get you back on track!