Do you find yourself hungry and reaching for unhealthy snacks even after you’ve eaten a generous dinner? As nighttime falls, does the urge to snack draw you to the refrigerator? It’s a common problem and one that can jeopardize your health and your waistline.
The evening is the worst time to snack, especially if you choose sugary fare or refined carbohydrates. The reason? Insulin sensitivity declines in the evening. Plus, you’re not active and those extra sugary calories are more likely to be stored as fat rather than used as fuel.
Plus, studies link snacking at night with abnormalities in lipids, including cholesterol, and changes in blood sugar control that could increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. In addition, studies find that obesity is more common in nighttime snackers. It can affect your productivity too. A study even found that nighttime snacking can negatively affect work performance the following day.
Why do people like to snack in the evening? Sometimes nighttime snacking is mindless. You’re grabbing a snack to enjoy while you watch television without thinking about it. Nighttime snacking may also be an attempt to curb hunger pangs or reduce stress.
Nevertheless, it’s best to snack during the day when you’re more active rather than breaking open a bag of chips after dinner. Let’s look at some ways to curb nighttime snacking.
Make sure you’re eating enough calories during the day
Are you eating enough calories during the day? If you’re skimping on daytime calories and nutrients, your brain will send signals that you’re hungry. This can lead to late-night snacking and overeating. The best antidote to this is awareness. So, track what you’re eating using a food journal or app.
Write down how much food and how many calories each meal contains so that you know how much fuel your body gets each day. Then make sure each meal includes enough protein, carbohydrates, and healthy fats like nuts or avocado slices to give you balanced nutrition. Also, ensure you’re eating enough to prevent hunger.
Be sure to write any snacks you eat in the evening in your food journal too, so you’re aware of how much you’re noshing and the composition of those snacks. A food journal provides insights you can’t get any other way.
When you snack, choose healthier fare
If you can’t resist the urge to snack after dinner, skip the chips and other packaged munchies and choose something healthy. As mentioned, your body is least able to handle high-fat, high-sugar food in the evening when you’re inactive. Skip the fries, pizza, or brownies. Instead, try low-fat yogurt or fresh fruit with nuts on top or celery or carrot stick with nut butter or hummus.
The worst option is foods made with refined flour or sugars that break down quickly into glucose in your bloodstream. These foods cause rapid increases in insulin production that promote fat storage. Plus, the surge in insulin can cause a drop in blood sugar after you fall asleep that wakes you up.
Keep healthy snacks on hand so that when hunger hits, you will have something healthy to munch on instead of reaching for unhealthy options.
Some healthier alternatives include:
Nuts – Nuts are high in protein and healthy fats and will keep you satisfied longer than sugary snacks like candy bars or cookies. Studies also show that nuts have favorable effects on blood lipids and reduce markers of inflammation, both of which are important for reducing cardiovascular risk.
Seeds – Seeds such as sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds are another healthy snack alternative because they contain fiber and antioxidants that can help lower cholesterol levels and improve heart health. They also contain magnesium which helps regulate blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
Fruit – Fruit is another great snack option because it is low in calories and high in fiber which makes it filling without adding many calories. Berries are especially good choices since they are packed with antioxidants and lower in sugar than other fruit.
Substitute a lighter ritual instead. How about enjoying a cup of herbal tea? herbal tea lacks caffeine and some, like chamomile, can help you sleep better too.
Ask yourself if you’re hungry or just bored
If you’re not sure if you’re hungry, question your desire to eat. Rate your hunger on a scale of one to five. If it’s not at least a three to five, skip the snack and do something else relaxing, like take a warm bath. Maybe turn off the television and get outside for some fresh air. Why not read a book or work on a hobby instead of bingeing on Netflix?
You might think you’re hungry, but you just need a break from whatever you’re doing. Take a break and do something you enjoy and that relaxes you before raiding the refrigerator. Have a nighttime ritual that doesn’t include snacking. How about a cup of hot herbal tea? Some, like chamomile, can even help you sleep better.
Eat protein at dinner and for snacks
Eat protein at meals and with snacks, so you stay full longer. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, which means it will help you feel fuller for longer after eating it. Along with making you feel satisfied, protein has a higher thermic effect than carbohydrates or fat. This means your body breaks down the protein in food into smaller components (amino acids) and heat is produced by this process.
Studies show high-protein diets can help people lose weight or prevent weight gain without calorie restriction. Along with helping with weight loss goals and hunger control throughout the day, eating foods high in protein is beneficial for building muscle mass when you strength train.
Set yourself up for a good night’s sleep
Rather than staying up late to watch Netflix, where you’ll be tempted to snack, turn in to bed earlier. Skimping on sleep boosts ghrelin an appetite hormone that increases the desire to munch. Getting more sleep and higher quality sleep will help balance your appetite hormones, so you’ll make smarter choices.
Cutting back on nighttime snacking is a great way to improve your health and lose weight. While it may be tempting to reach for unhealthy snacks when you’re bored, this can lead you down a path of eating when you’re bored and eating the wrong stuff. Give these tips a try!
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- Hibi M, Masumoto A, Naito Y, Kiuchi K, Yoshimoto Y, Matsumoto M, Katashima M, Oka J, Ikemoto S. Nighttime snacking reduces whole body fat oxidation and increases LDL cholesterol in healthy young women. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2013 Jan 15;304(2):R94-R101. doi: 10.1152/ajpregu.00115.2012. Epub 2012 Nov 21. PMID: 23174861.
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- “Late-Night Snacking Can Impair Your Work Performance: Study – Insider.” 18 May. 2021, https://www.insider.com/late-night-snacking-impairs-work-performance-study-2021-5.