Does this sound familiar? You eat great all day long, sit down on the couch to relax, turn on the TV, and all the sudden your stomach growls. Next thing you know you have eaten your way through half a bag of chips or a carton of ice cream.
Maybe it’s not this extreme for you, but all these “extra” snacks many of us tend to eat after a meal out of habit can add up to a lot of excess calories – enough to make it so that we can’t make good progress towards our nutrition goals.
This is so common and discouraging when you have been doing so well and then undo it in one quick and mindless food free-for-all. The next time one of these night time cravings strikes, keep these things in mind:
Examine Your Eating Habits
Make sure you are getting enough good nutrients in your food throughout the day. It could be that you are not getting enough to eat, leaving us in too much of an energy deficit at night. A good goal is three balanced meals (full of lean protein, lots of non starchy vegetables, smart carb sources, and plant based healthy fats), and two smaller snacks.
Drink Some Water
If you are still hungry at night after eating good amounts throughout the day, drink a big glass of water. Add fresh fruit or herbs, have a sparkling water, or herbal tea. Sometimes when we think we are hungry, we are really thirsty. Remember, we want to aim for about 80 ounces of water a day.
Habit vs. Necessity
When are just are just in the HABIT of eating food at a certain time, it can make us actually feel hungry, even when we don’t really need the nutrients or energy. When our bodies are used to eating a post dinner snack, our GI tract is so smart that it will actually send real hunger signals to our brain at times when it is used to getting food. Our stomachs will growl and we actually FEEL hungry, even when we have had sufficient calories (energy) for the day. Read more about how this works HERE.
Eliminate “Trigger” Foods
If at night you are constantly reaching for a bag of salty chips or popcorn – don’t keep them in your pantry! Same thing goes for ice cream, cookies, candy, etc. If you have these foods in your house, it is only a matter of time before you will find yourself headed towards them. Best bet, keep them out of your house so you won’t be tempted to eat them when you are craving something salty or sweet.
Brush Your Teeth
Brushing your teeth or using some mouthwash immediately after dinner can send a DIFFERENT signal to our brain that we are finished eating for the day. It’s also helpful because eating after you brush your teeth definitely makes things taste a little strange. If this isn’t practical (you are out to eat or not at home), you could also pop in a piece of gum to distract you.
Go to Bed
This is just a good tip no matter what. Sleep is the engine of recovery and most of us don’t get enough of it. If a craving starts up and you have eaten well throughout the day so you don’t NEED any more food, just head to bed. It will be good for you to get a little extra rest!
If All Else Fails…
Eat a little snack. BUT, make sure you are prepared with some healthy snack options. Just like during the day, we want to be getting fiber, protein, and a healthy carb. This is a “risky” time when we are tired and possibly stressed from whatever craziness happened throughout the day so our body is craving sweets and simple carbs – stuff that won’t make us feel very good and will ruin all that important sleep we need. Try something like greek yogurt, fresh fruit, and a few raw almonds, fresh veggies with hummus, or an orange (peeling this will take some time and distract you for a bit). Remember to eat SLOWLY and MINDFULLY- if we stand at the counter or sit in front of the TV we tend to not be as satisfied or realize how much we are eating which can lead to overindulging.
As frustrating as it can be to stop the nighttime eating, you CAN do it! It takes up to two months of consistency and practice to form a habit, and it’s ok if you have an occasional slip. As with anything nutrition related, it is progress, not perfection. It’s ok to be a little uncomfortable as you get out of this routine, and it WILL get easier over time. Each day, just aim to be a little bit better.
Are you ready to take control of the foods you eat and gain a healthy relationship with nutrition?
About the Author
Karen Hazelton is Precision Nutrition Level One Certified and a Healthy Steps Nutrition Coach. Her sports background is in tennis, and through hard work and dedication she earned a Division One tennis scholarship to University of Northern Colorado. An important component of her training was developing strength in the weight room. Being physically strong and having a good foundation of metabolic conditioning was essential to playing her best on the court. After earning a degree in mathematics, she moved back to her hometown of Tucson and became a high school math teacher.
Karen loved her work as a teacher, but after taking time out of the classroom to raise her two young kids, she realized how she missed coaching and working with athletes. That led her to obtain her training and nutrition certifications. She loves to see members use fitness and nutrition to become stronger, happier, and healthier versions of themselves.