It’s 7 p.m. dinner is done, the dishes are put away, and you’re watching your favorite show. The next thing you know you’re standing in front of your pantry (or fridge or freezer), pulling out chips (or ice cream or crackers or popcorn) to satisfy your craving. And you might even find yourself there again at 8 p.m. and 9 p.m., too! Does this happen to you? What’s going on? Are you really hungry? Night-time snacking is one of the biggest challenges and culprits of weight gain.
Believe it or not, there’s a lot going on behind the scenes of night-time snacking -- habits, hormones, emotions, nutrition deficiencies, sleep deprivation – even the influence of television!
• “Emotional eating.” Have you heard of “emotional eating?” Perhaps you ‘ve experienced this or seen a movie where the jilted lover tries to soothe her broken heart with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream? (Did you know they have a flavor called “Chocolate Therapy?”) But emotions that can drive you to snack are not always that clear or dramatic. Everyday stress, anxiety, frustration, loneliness, and boredom are just a few of the feelings that cause many people to “comfort eat.” You may not even be aware of those feelings, but night-time can magnify them and send you to the kitchen. In my practice, I work with clients to help them understand their emotional triggers, change their relationship with food, and learn healthier habits. The first step is self-awareness. When you find yourself mindlessly snacking, write a few notes about how you’re feeling. Ask yourself a few questions:
o Am I really hungry or am I bored? New clients often tell me that they snack because they’re bored. Does that ever happen to you? When and why does that happen? What could you do about your boredom besides eat?
o Am I stressed and snacking comforts me? Stress increases cortisol, which can increase your craving to snack. How about trying some healthier ways to relax, such as taking a walk, doing yoga stretches, soaking in a warm bath, or doing some deep breathing or meditation exercises. Check out the meditation app, Headspace. It’s easy, just 10 minutes at a time, and very calming.
Emotional eating is just one driver of night-time snacking. What are some other reasons we snack?• Entertaining. When we get together with family or friends, it’s often about eating. And summertime brings picnics, BBQs, family reunions, and more! If you’re worried that you’ll offend your host who’s baked all day, or that your family or friends will give you a hard time (and what’s that all about?), let them know you are focusing on healthy habits, or personal goals and find other ways to join in and connect! If that idea makes you uncomfortable you’re not alone here, this is a very common challenge for a lot of people. Remember everyone has their own journey they are staying on theirs and there is no reason for you not to stay on your's. Be strong, its your life!
• TV triggers. You know when you’re watching your favorite shows, you’re the target of commercials for fast food, sweets and salty snacks. These ads work, as they were designed to, and trigger the urge to snack – companies spend millions of dollars to create those cravings. Take back your power by muting the television or fast-forwarding through your recordings.
• Hormone health. Your body produces hormones to help regulate your appetite – insulin, leptin and ghrelin are just a few. If these hormones are out of balance, you might feel as if you can’t control your hunger, because your brain is not acknowledging that you’re full. For example, why do we crave something sweet right after a big meal? It’s physical! Your body produces insulin after you eat in order to process the carbohydrates (sugar). Making just small changes to when and what you eat can help keep your hormones in check, making it easier for you to kick your cravings and maintain or lose weight.
Now that we’ve explored some possible “whys,” what else can we do about it? Here are some steps you can take right away to help curb your night-time snacking:
• Eat a balanced breakfast. Because our bodies store late-night eating as fat, snacking before bedtime might prevent you from being hungry when you wake up. This might cause you to skip breakfast, which could throw you off for the whole day! It’s a snacker’s vicious cycle! To prevent this, be sure to begin your day with a balanced breakfast of protein, fiber and healthy fats. For example eggs with veggies sautéed in olive oil or ghee will help regulate your blood sugar until it’s time for lunch! But remember, no one breakfast works for everyone. Find what works for you. For me I LOVE protein pancakes, but I have learned that you have to mix it up and add variety to your meals.
• Don’t have it in the house. So there you are, right after dinner, looking in the pantry or frig. What are you looking for? If you can’t find the snacks you crave, you can’t eat them! The decision not to have snacks in the house is made in the supermarket. Next time you’re grocery shopping, resist the temptation to bring home the unhealthy treats that sabotage your health and weight-loss goals. If it’s not in your house, it’s not in your mouth!
• Crowd out the unhealthy snacks with better options. It’s unrealistic to think we’ll never want a snack – the key is to choose good, better, best options for snacking!
• Make sleep a priority. Studies show that when we’re tired, we’re 25% hungrier. Why? Remember the hormone ghrelin I mentioned earlier? Your body produces more of it when you’re tired, and ghrelin is the hormone that tells your body that you’re hungry... If you tend to stay up too late, you could be adding a double-whammy to your night-time cravings. Reminds me that I need to get to bed :).
Holistic Health Coaching supports you in all areas of your life. Life affects your food and food affects your life. Let’s get to the root cause of your snacking!