When evening rolls around, do you find yourself in the kitchen looking through cabinets and peeking in the refrigerator for a nighttime snack? Some people eat cleanly all day and then “let loose” at night, snacking on foods that are high in fat or sugar. Even if you’re a clean eater all day, you can undo some of the benefits of clean eating by nighttime snacking too much. A recent study looked at this issue and showed a simple way to control those evening snack attacks.
A Simple Way to Control Nighttime Snacking
A recent study carried out at the University of Missouri-Columbia showed that eating a high-protein breakfast helps to put a curb unhealthy nighttime noshing. Young, overweight and obese females were the subject of this study. One group enjoyed a high-protein breakfast with 35 grams of protein while another ate a moderate-protein breakfast of breakfast cereal. Each contained 350 calories and consisted of equal amounts of fat, fiber, and sugar. A third group skipped breakfast entirely.
The results? The group that ate a high-protein breakfast ate fewer high-sugar and high-fat snacks than the other two groups. Plus, when they scanned their brains using MRI imaging, centers that control food-seeking behavior lit up less. So making a healthier choice for breakfast could help you curb the urge to snack in the evening.
There are a number of reasons why a protein-rich breakfast works in your favor when it comes to controlling hunger and boosting weight loss. Protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients. It stimulates the release of an appetite-suppressing hormone called peptide YY more than fats or carbohydrates. That helps you stay fuller longer.
High-protein diets also boost thermogenesis. In fact, the thermic response to protein is 50 to 100% higher than for fat or protein. It takes more energy to break down proteins due to the greater complexity of their structure. So your body burns more calories to process proteins compared to fats and carbohydrates.
In addition, a diet higher in protein creates an anabolic environment that helps to maintain a more favorable body composition so you’re less likely to break down muscle.
Other Ways to Reduce Nighttime Snacking
Eating a high-protein breakfast is a good strategy, but make sure you’re eating a lean source of protein with every meal to stabilize blood sugar and keep nighttime snacking urges at bay.
Make sure you’re getting enough total calories from whole foods throughout the day. People who snack after dinner often fall into two classes. They’re snacking because they’re restricting calories too much or aren’t getting enough protein or they’re snacking out of boredom.
Before reaching for a before bedtime snack, ask yourself if you’re really hungry or nibbling out of boredom. If you’re nighttime snacking out of boredom, find something else to do in the evening to occupy your time. How about relaxing in a warm bubble bath or writing in a journal? These are good ways to relieve stress too – and stress could be causing you to snack. Make it a rule not to eat when you’re working on the computer or watching television. It’s too easy to get distracted and let the snacking get out of hand.
Here’s another idea. Instead of staying up so late that you become bored and head to the kitchen, take a warm bath and get to bed before 10:00 P.M. Research consistently shows that getting less than 7 hours of sleep a night is linked with weight gain and increases your risk for health problems including heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Plus, the later you stay up the more likely you are to snack.
If you really are hungry and can’t turn off your hunger pangs, choose a protein-rich snack like string cheese, cottage cheese, Greek yogurt with a little fruit, hard-boiled Eggland’s Best eggs or a handful of nuts. Skip the Ben and Jerry’s and the chocolate chip cookies. In fact, don’t keep them in your house where you’ll be tempted. It’s easy not to eat what you don’t have.
The Bottom Line?
Too many of the wrong evening snacks will show up on your waistline. Eating a protein-rich breakfast and protein throughout the day will keep you fuller and more satisfied so you can resist nighttime snacking.
Eurekalert.org. “Protein-rich breakfasts prevent unhealthy snacking in the evening”
Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May; 87(5):1558S-1561S.
Science Daily. “Eating Protein Boosts Hormone That Staves Off Hunger”
J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Oct;23(5):373-85.
J Am Coll Nutr February 2002 vol. 21 no. 1 55-61.