Beating the Late Night Munchies

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 those nagging post-dinner cravings. Does this happen to you? What’s going on? Are you really hungry?

Night-time snacking is one of the biggest challenges and can really contribute to weight gain. When you eat within a few hours of sleeping, your body stores the food as fat.

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! See my top tips below to help you beat those late night munchies!

“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? (They actually 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 and ask yourself a few questions:

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?

Am I stressed and trying to comfort myself with food? 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 one driver of night-time snacking, but here are some other common reasons why we may get the urge to snack:

Insufficient nutrition earlier in the day. If you haven't eaten enough or had enough of the right foods throughout the day, your body is going to want more nourishment come night time. Shoot for eating 1 lb of non-starchy vegetables each day and include sources of clean protein and healthy fats at each meal. Drinking coffee or other caffeinated beverages first thing in the morning before eating can also cause major cravings later in the day.

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 (what’s that all about? NOT cool), bring healthy food with you, let them know you are focusing on healthy habits, 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) let’s talk about ways you can handle this with your friends and family.

TV triggers. 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 they trigger the urge to snack. Companies spend millions of dollars to create those cravings, so 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.

Here are some steps you can take right away to help curb your night-time snacking:

1. Eat a nourishing 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 nutritious breakfast of protein, fiber and healthy fats. For example eggs with veggies sautéed in coconut oil or ghee will help fuel your brain and regulate your blood sugar until it’s time for lunch. I like to make a smoothie with coconut milk, vegan protein powder, hemp hearts, frozen organic blueberries and kale, and mac root. It energizes me and keep me going for 2-3 hours.

2. Don’t keep tempting snacks in the house. So there you are, right after dinner, looking in the pantry or fridge. 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!

3. 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! Sliced cucumber with hummus or half an avocado are both tasty, satisfying options.

4. Make sleep a priority. Studies show that when we’re tired, we’re 25% hungrier. 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.

Want to beat your bad habits once and for all and create an empowered and healthy lifestyle? Book your free Coffee Talk session and let’s get to the root cause of your snacking!