Snacking or eating at night is a bad habit because the body does not have enough time to properly digest all the food that comes in before bed. Snacking at night can make you overeat low-nutrient foods and can also make you sleep less quality. If you want to stop snacking at night, try the following steps.
Part 1 of 3: Recognizing the Cause
Step 1. Recognize the difference between emotional and physical hunger
Sometimes we eat at night because we are really hungry, especially if we don't get enough calories during the day. But there are times when you eat at night because of emotional hunger. Recognizing what causes you to eat at night, due to physical or emotional hunger, is an important step in dealing with this problem.
- Does your hunger come on suddenly or gradually? Symptoms of emotional hunger are more likely to be a sudden urge to eat something. While physical hunger comes gradually.
- What kind of food do you want to eat? When you're experiencing emotional hunger, you're more likely to crave sweet or savory foods than something substantial.
- Is your calorie intake sufficient during the day? If you're on a strict diet or if you skip meals, you're more likely to experience physical hunger at night. However, if you've eaten heavy meals before, the hunger you feel may be emotional hunger.
Step 2. Observe your daily routine
To understand the situation and why you're overeating at night, observe your day and night routine. You can identify the factors that drive you to eat at night.
- Are you limiting your calorie intake or skipping meals? If that's the case, you'll end up thinking about food all day long. This will encourage you to snack recklessly at night. Skipping breakfast is the main trigger for you to eat at night.
- Did you do anything before dinner? Often times, people rush to eat an unhealthy dinner which then leaves them feeling hungry. People also sometimes snack during dinner prep, which means they eat a small amount of the core meal they've cooked and feel full on empty calories. This will then cause you to feel hungry.
- What's your after-dinner routine like? Often times, people change into pajamas and sit on the couch with their laptops or watch TV before bed. While there's nothing wrong with taking a break and relaxing after a long day, often mindless eating occurs during this time. People tend to snack while they watch TV or browse the internet and pay less attention to what they are eating.
Step 3. Understand how to control the hormones behind hunger
There are four main hormones that often cause you to eat at night. Excess or lack of the hormones insulin, leptin, ghrelin, YY peptide, or cortisol can cause you to snack at night. Learn about behaviors that can affect your hormone levels and how to help your body properly regulate hunger-causing hormones.
- The hormone insulin helps the body process sugar. The hormone insulin tends to increase dramatically in response to empty calories in the form of refined sugar and refined grains. The increase is temporary, and after that you will feel hungry again. Avoid sugary foods and white bread and white pasta, especially around dinner time. This can help maintain insulin levels and prevent unwanted hunger.
- The hormone leptin is a hormone that is basically responsible for telling our brains when our bodies are full. However, an increased intake of sugar, flour, and processed foods can interfere with the ability of the hormone leptin to make you feel full. Again, avoiding processed and sugary foods throughout the day will allow the hormone leptin to prevent us from overeating.
- The hormone ghrelin is the hunger hormone and helps regulate appetite. This hormone lets us know when we should eat and, as with the hormones above, its function can be disrupted by disordered eating habits and poor quality foods. Eat regularly and eat an adequate number of calories each day, in the form of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and lean protein.
- Peptide YY hormone is a hormone found in the digestive system that, much like the hormone leptin, plays a role in telling the body that the body has eaten enough. When our digestive system is not filled with quality calories, the YY Peptide hormone will signal that we need more food even though we have consumed a number of calories. Fill your body with substantial food instead of empty carbohydrates and sugary foods.
- Cortisol is a stress hormone. Although less directly related to hunger than the hormones above, an increase in the hormone cortisol triggers an increase in insulin and blood sugar. This causes us to feel hungry. In other words, stress can lead to overeating. Look for ways to reduce overall stress, such as exercise and meditation. This will keep your cortisol levels under control and prevent hunger pangs.
Part 2 of 3: Changing Eating Habits
Step 1. Get used to breakfast
Breakfast seems to be the most important step in preventing you from snacking at night. A healthy breakfast will keep you energized throughout the day and can make you feel full at night.
- Switching up your calorie intake in the morning can help you feel full throughout the day. If most of your daily calories are consumed at breakfast and lunch, then you will not overeat during and after dinner due to the small stomach capacity.
- Choose lean protein, whole grains, and fruit for breakfast. Ideally, eat around 350 calories. But if you exercise a lot, or have a physically demanding job/stamina, consider increasing the number.
- Eggs have proven to be a favorite breakfast menu. Eggs are a great source of protein, which helps balance your blood sugar throughout the day. However, make sure you cook your eggs in a healthy way. Cook eggs in olive or canola oil instead of butter or margarine and don't add too much salt.
- If you are not an egg eater, other healthy protein breakfast menus that you can choose include granola, nuts, low-fat cheese, and low-fat milk.
Step 2. Remove all low-nutrient foods from your cupboard
If you have a favorite snack near you, you will continue to focus on it. Even if you're not hungry, you're likely to crave the taste. Getting rid of these foods means getting rid of temptations.
- Get to know the food you choose for a late night snack. Often we choose sweet and salty foods, especially if we are feeling emotionally hungry. It's a good idea to throw out the Oreos or packaged popcorn (which you can make yourself using the microwave) if you find yourself snacking on a low-nutrient meal at night.
- If you really feel you deserve a bedtime snack, consider changing your supply of low-nutrient foods rather than getting rid of them completely. Buy 100-calorie packs of chips or individual-packaged cookies. You can also combine healthy food with less healthy food as a low-calorie snack for the evening. Dip fruit in chocolate spread, such as Nutella, or mix cane sugar in a bowl of oatmeal.
- If you want to store nutrient-dense foods like chips and dipping sauces for social gatherings, you can keep certain foods in your cupboard, but limit your access. Place the food on high shelves that take time to reach. Freeze candies and pastries so they must be thawed before consumption. When it comes to satisfying cravings, you'll get extra time to consider what you're doing and make you rethink eating those unhealthy snacks.
Step 3. Choose foods that have a low glycemic index
The glycemic index is a carbohydrate level that measures how much the food raises blood glucose levels in the body. Foods that are low on glycemic index give you a longer feeling of fullness, which reduces your chances of snacking at night.
- Sudden increases in blood sugar are usually caused by processed foods and refined sugars, resulting in a massive increase in insulin to bring blood sugar levels back to normal. These fluctuating hormonal changes mean that you will feel hungry more quickly. If you eat foods that have a high glycemic index throughout the day, you will feel hungry faster. This can cause you to snack at night.
- Basically, a low glycemic diet means that you get most of your daily carbohydrates from whole grain grains, vegetables and fruits, and healthy protein. Products derived from added sugar or made from white wheat are not recommended.
- Foods that have a low glycemic index score 55 and below on the Glycemic Index scale. Examples of low-glycemic foods include barley, beans, bran cereals, carrots, celery, lentils, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, low-fat yogurt, and a variety of fruits and vegetables.
- High glycemic foods are rated 70 and above. These include sweet cereals, white bread and rice, potatoes, pretzels, and most types of candy.
Step 4. Eat and drink throughout the day
Avoiding calorie intake throughout the day will cause you to snack excessively at night. Making sure you are getting a good nutritional intake in the evening can prevent you from snacking at night.
- Don't get your calorie intake from drinks. Often we fill our stomachs with sugary sodas, juices, and sports drinks. The added sugar in these drinks messes with our blood sugar levels, leading to late-night hunger pangs. Drink water if you feel thirsty or drink low/no calorie drinks like coffee and tea.
- Eat healthy snacks. If you feel hungry between meals, don't ignore your hunger. If the feeling comes on gradually, you may experience physical hunger and your body needs more fuel. Try eating a handful of nuts or a small bowl of fruit or vegetables. Stuffing your body with healthy snacks throughout the day can curb your cravings for late night snacks.
- Eat a balanced diet. A balanced diet consists of plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains and grains, lean protein such as fish and poultry, and heart-healthy fats such as those found in olive and canola oils.
Step 5. Prepare a healthy evening snack
If excessive snacking at night is a habit, you are unlikely to be able to change it overnight. You can help ease the transition by replacing unhealthy late night snacks with healthy snack options.
- Cut up fruits and vegetables and store them in a Tupperware container in your refrigerator. That way, the snack will be easy to grab when the urge to snack after dinner arises.
- You can buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables at the supermarket. This might be a good choice if you tend to be a disorganized person and may not remember to prepare your own evening snack.
- If you're a chip lover, you might be tempted to replace your regular potato chips with seemingly healthier chip options like kettle chips, baked chips, and chips made from seemingly healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes and quinoa. Be careful with these choices. Oftentimes, the nutritional content of these "healthy" options is similar to that of potato chips. Basically, these chips contain empty carbohydrates. You are better off not including chips at all in the evening snack menu.
Part 3 of 3: Changing Routines
Step 1. Find a new hobby
Snacking at night is often done without thinking, as a result of boredom while doing other activities such as watching television. If you keep yourself busy with other hobbies, you're less likely to snack at night.
- Choose activities that keep your hands busy. Try knitting or sewing. Try starting a puzzle of 1,000 pieces. Practice playing the rubber band (cat's cradle). Buy a sketchbook and learn to draw. Anything that can keep your hands focused on something other than eating is a great activity for this purpose.
- Also use your mind. Evening snacking is sometimes the result of emotional stress, so if you keep your mental energy focused elsewhere, you're less likely to snack at night. Buy a crossword or sudoku book. There are many trivia games available online, which allow you to compete with other players. If you live with your partner or roommates, consider playing card games or board games as a nightly routine.
Step 2. Have fun all day long
Oftentimes, unwinding at night with a snack is the highlight of the day. If this is the case for you, try incorporating fun activities into your routine. This way, you'll be less likely to focus your attention on evening snacks as your primary form of emotional release.
- Try to make room for a little fun. What is something you enjoy? What are you interested in? If you drive to work or take public transportation, try listening to podcasts about topics that interest you and your commute in the morning. If you like reading, read a book while waiting for the bus or train. Take time during your lunch hour for a leisurely stroll. Stop by a store you like after work a few times a week, even if it's just to have a look.
- Join a club. Meeting new people, and being involved in those communities, can improve your overall mood. This means less attention will be paid to evening snacks as a form of unwinding and relaxing. Websites like Meetup will help you find clubs that match your interests or you can visit your nearest community center and see what classes and clubs you can join.
- Incorporate nighttime activities that are not related to snacking into your daily routine. Do you like walking? Go for a walk for half an hour at bedtime. Are you a video game lover? Find a video game that you like and let you play it for an hour before going to bed.
Step 3. Brush your teeth after dinner
Brushing your teeth can be a great way to curb your cravings for late night snacks for a variety of reasons.
- Most people enjoy the sensation of a clean mouth and do not want to stain it with food. If you brush your teeth immediately after dinner instead of before bed, you are less likely to snack at night.
- Toothpaste and mouthwash change the taste of food. Eating late-night snacks, such as sweet and salty snacks, will seem unappetizing to you after cleaning your teeth with products containing mint.
- Purchase sugar-free mint-flavored sheets or mint-flavored gum at the supermarket. If you start to feel the urge to eat after your clean-mouth sensation has worn off, you can restore that sensation by using a breathable sheet or chewing gum.
Step 4. Get enough sleep
Often times, a messy sleep schedule can lead to a messy eating schedule as well. Changing your sleep schedule can help curb cravings for late night snacks.
- A poor sleep schedule can cause you to easily skip meals, especially breakfast. For example, you have to be at work at 9am every day but you go to bed at 2am every night. You're less likely to wake up early to prepare breakfast, and as you know, skipping breakfast will definitely encourage you to snack at night.
- Staying up late also causes boredom. There are fewer people around you and less activity. Many people end up snacking because they have little to do.
- Set a regular sleep schedule. This means that you should go to bed and wake up at about the same time each day, with 7-9 hours of sleep. Your body and mind will adjust to the routine and you'll start to fall asleep around the same time each day.
Step 5. Ask for support
If snacking at night has become a habit every night, don't think it's an easy habit to break. This will be a challenge at first and asking for support from friends and family members can help you overcome this problem.
- If you live with other people, ask your roommates, spouse, or family not to store low-nutrient foods in places they know will tempt you. In addition, you can ask them to join you in eliminating the habit of snacking at night.
- If you live alone, try to find friends you can text or talk to on the phone. Social interaction can combat boredom and stress, which are major triggers for late night snacking.
- Online communities usually offer support, advice, and tips. Look for forums and discussion sites to talk about your struggles with breaking the habit of late-night snacking and seek guidance from people in similar situations.
- For some people, monitoring calories can help. If you can see exactly how much of your calorie intake from evening snacks, this can be your motivation to break the habit.
- Replace quantity with quality for an evening snack. Choose fresh fruits and vegetables instead of empty carbs and sugar.
- Make sure you have social interactions throughout the day. Having a healthy social life can help keep you in a happy mood and reduce stress, thereby reducing your chances of stress-induced nighttime snacking.
While it's a good idea to break the habit of snacking at night, if you're eating most of your daily calories at night, you'll need to supplement the calories you haven't had throughout the day. Never eat less than 1,200 calories per day
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