When it comes to weight loss, an Achilles heel for many is evening snacking. To clarify, we are not talking about having a late dinner. Regardless of the time, if you are due for a meal, you should eat. What we are addressing here is reaching for the pretzels, chips and ice cream, post-dinner.
Eliminating this habit can and will do great things for your waistline.
1. Identify Why It’s Happening
“But are you actually hungry?”
It’s important to identify if your evening snacking routine is due to actual hunger or if it’s an emotional response to a stressful day or even just out of pure habit. Why is it that even the most highly motivated people can succumb to evening junk food cravings?
According to research, the process of self-regulation a.k.a willpower works similarly to our muscles. Like the strength associated with a muscle, willpower fatigues when exerted for prolonged periods of time. We spend a lot of the day utilizing our self-restraint muscle. Think about the energy it takes to deal with a challenging co-worker or to pay attention in a boring lecture…no wonder it runs out of steam by the evening! Studies show that over time, we can strengthen this muscle and improve our willpower with practice.
Try keeping a food journal for a few days to get a big picture view of what in your diet could be leaving you hungry at night. You may get a better idea of how much your actually eating and how you’re spreading your calories during the day. It will also help you identify if your snacking has anything to do with hunger at all. If it’s the latter, start practicing your self-restraint muscle with more awareness and mindfulness.
2. Get Better at Eating During The Day
If you do find yourself starving in the evening, it may have to do with not eating enough during the day. Try having slightly larger, cleaner, more complete meals during the day so you are not saving all your daily calories for the evening. Spread your calories throughout the day instead of right before bed.
3. Have a More Balanced, Satisfying Dinner
Plan your dinners ahead of time as much as possible—this will better your chances of having a well thought-out dinner. A more balanced meal will be more likely to keep you satisfied. A balanced dinner should include a lean protein, vegetable, starch and perhaps a healthy fat like olive oil, nuts or avocado. If you’re short changing yourself on dinner, you may find yourself back in the pantry.
4. Replace Your Snacks with Healthier Snacks
Perhaps, the simplest way to eliminate nighttime snacking is to get rid of the junk food all together. Find healthy alternatives for the evenings for when you do find yourself genuinely hungry. I recommend eliminating snacks high in sugar and salt. Some alternatives include:
Low calorie microwave popcorn
Half of a banana with 1Tbs Almond Butter
½ Cup plain greek yogurt or cottage cheese with berries and cinnamon
5. Practice Mindfulness
My own personal experience with nighttime eating is that it’s often mindless—You’re heavy into Game of Thrones and before you know it, half the bag of chips is gone.
Food serves a very specific purpose in our body; however in a food abundant world with easy access whatever we are craving, it is easy to munch mindlessly. Slow down and be more deliberate when making your choices. Think about WHY you feel like snacking and eat with the intention of enjoying each bite. Portion out how much you would like to eat instead of lounging with the whole bag.