The kitchen has long been closed since dinner, and suddenly a snack attack strikes. What’s a gal (or guy) to eat? Excuse me- I mean, do. I get asked this question a lot and recently by one of my readers so it’s a good time lay out the skinny on late night snackies.
The late night munchies are a pitfall for many people trying to make lifestyle changes – and can be a major source of unwanted calories. The main problem nighttime eating is that it’s doubtful you are mixing up a salad at 10pm to eat in front of the TV or sautéing kale at midnight because the late night snackies lead to eating snack foods- foods that are typically calorie dense and nutrient poor.
The first step is getting out of this quicksand-like pitfall is to work backwards: if you are genuinely hungry or craving ‘something’ it is highly likely your meals during the day were lacking. Start by taking a look at dinner and work backwards through your meals and snacks pondering the following the questions:
- Did you eat enough? Only nibbling lettuce all day is not enough and totally pointless if you are shoveling chips into your mouth at 11pm.
- Were your meals balanced? Balanced meals should have a complex carbohydrate, lean protein, and lots of leafy green veggies.
- Did you skip a meal or 2?
- Are you eating consistently throughout the day – like every 3 hours (4 at max)?
- Are you eating nutrient dense foods? Your body cravings often come from lack of nutrition- which will NOT come from that tub of ice cream.
- Is your diet filled with processed or refined foods? Crap food fosters cravings for crap food – the more you eat the more you want.
- Have you had too much to drink? Like in booze. Let’s face it – have you ever eaten a burrito before bed while you were sober? If that’s the case, back off the sauce even if just so you don’t eat an entire week’s worth of calories in 20 minutes.
- Did you drink enough water? Dehydration often leads us to reach for food instead so make sure to drink enough water throughout the day.
- How much did you sleep last night? Sleep deprivation leads to over eating because it slows the production of our satiety hormone, basically you become a bottomless pit and never feel full- yikes.
If you magically can say no to all that, then perhaps take a look at some behavioral components like:
- Are you bored?
- Are you eating out of habit or monotony?
- Are you lonely, sad, or depressed?
If those points ring true to you- then ring a friend up on the phone and talk to someone so you don’t feel lonely, and don’t be ashamed to seek professional help if you are depressed or can’t stop overeating because there is hope and there are options to help you. If you’re only bored, then read a book, take a walk, or get a hobby – seriously. And no, historian of the evolution of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavors over the last decade doesn’t count as a hobby.
So, since we like to kid ourselves into thinking we are healthier than we are, or that our bad habits are really ok – then let’s go for broke and pretend what I’m about to tell you can have is really decadent. If you are still back in the kitchen at night, try a few tricks to trick yourself with:
- A cup of hot tea (herbal)
- Brush your teeth
- A glass of naturally flavored, calorie free sparkling water – you can get all silly and throw some fresh lemon or lime juice in too
- Just go to bed (hey, maybe its lack of sleep that has you in the kitchen in the first place!)
If you must eat, for the love of all things holy, have a healthy snack like air popped popcorn, a small handful of nuts, or a small bit of lean protein and a little complex carbohydrate but not too much. Eating right before bed makes for a real crappy night’s sleep and will probably not have you hungry for breakfast thus skipping meals – both of which will have back in quicksand come tomorrow night.