If you’ve tried nearly any kind of diet or lifestyle change in the past, then you might know the struggle of quitting late-night snacking. Nighttime snacking is often mindless eating and even more often consists of unhealthy snack foods. There are many reasons why we see our patients turn to nighttime eating, but the American Heart Association may have found the most common cause. Few Americans eat three standard meals per day anymore, according to a new study from the group. Instead, many of us skip meals, and 20-30 percent of U.S. adults skip breakfast daily. This leads to additional snacking and reaching for unhealthy snacks.
Eating most of your calories at night, as opposed to earlier in the day, is linked to obesity and a greater risk of heart disease and diabetes. That’s why we discourage nighttime snacking and gathered a list of our top five tips to help you break the habit. You can do it! Here’s how you can start:
Eat set meals.
If you aren’t eating enough throughout the day, then you’re setting yourself up for nighttime binging. You can set the stage for success by eating throughout the day with set meals. Make sure you plan ahead and know what your lunch, dinner, and snack will be at the beginning of each day. Find a pattern that works for you!
Pick a cutoff time.
Draw a line in the sand. Choose a cutoff time when you will stop eating in the evening. For most people, this is around 8 or 9 p.m., but you should choose a realistic time for your schedule and lifestyle. Most people choose a cutoff time of three hours before bedtime, which leaves you enough time to digest your dinner without getting hungry again before going to sleep.
If you find yourself craving food at night, think twice about raiding the refrigerator. Take a 15-minute pause. After your 15 minutes are up, check in to see if you’re still hungry or if you’re simply bored or eating out of habit. You may need some other form of stimulation. Consider a relaxing shower or bath, a walk, or glass of water. Evaluating your hunger will allow you to make a more mindful decision.
Plan a snack.
If you know that you usually find yourself to be hungry after an early dinner or a light dinner, then stick to your cutoff time, but have a healthy snack planned. This can be a piece of fruit, avocado, nuts, or even a cup of soup. Having this set snack will help keep you from looking for chips or ice cream.
If you tend to eat dinner early or your evening meal is on the light side and you regularly find yourself hungry at night, plan a small, healthy snack to eat between dinner and bedtime—some fruit and yogurt, a cup of soup, or avocado toast, for example. The idea is to strategically snack to manage your hunger rather than let your appetite leave you vulnerable to randomly munching.
Set rules for yourself. The first should be that, anytime you eat, put a portion into a bowl or plate and put the rest away. Never take the whole bag of chips or popcorn and sit on the sofa to munch away. Try to always sit at a table to enjoy your food and savor it as well.
We know that managing a new, healthy diet can be challenging. Make an appointment with your weight-loss clinic today.