Do you have a post-dinner routine of grabbing a snack or dessert and parking yourself in front of the TV, despite the fact that you aren’t truly hungry? Or maybe you frequently skip dinner altogether, only to find yourself ravenously raiding the pantry for a late night snack. Do you get out of bed in the wee hours of the night and head straight to the fridge? Late night eating is one of the quickest ways to gain extra pounds, and sets you up for not feeling hungry for breakfast. If nighttime eating feels out of control for you, consider the following:
- You’re not eating enough during the day. It makes sense that depriving yourself of nourishment during the day will trigger overeating at night. Eating balanced meals and snacks at regular intervals throughout the day is important for maintaining stable blood sugar and insulin levels and avoiding hunger binges at night. Eating multiple mini-meals spaced evenly throughout the day can help you avoid the evening binge.
- You’re not getting enough sleep. Less time sleeping simply means more opportunity to eat. Plus, several studies suggest that sleep deprivation actually disrupts hormones that regulate satiety and hunger. Furthermore, feeling fatigued can be mistaken for hunger.
- Food is an emotional crutch. Eating can be a way to avoid difficult feelings such as boredom, loneliness, and anxiety, which can feel more intense in the evening hours at home. Eating can also be used to procrastinate when we feel overwhelmed with dreaded chores or tasks. Indeed, food can be comforting, and a source of pleasure and relaxation – but think about the role it plays in your life. Is it one of your main sources of comfort, relaxation, or pleasure?
- Night eating syndrome, or NED, is a sleep related eating disorder characterized by reduced feeding during the day (due to little or no appetite, and/or feelings of guilt and anxiety about eating) and overeating at night, specifically getting out of bed just to eat. NED is often associated with obesity and depressed mood.
What to do if nighttime eating feels like a problem for you? First, identify the triggers for your late night munchies. Are you eating enough during the daytime hours? Perhaps you have a ritual of TV watching and snacking between bedtime and dinner, so a change in routine would be helpful. Sleep deprivation is a common issue, and there are many reasons for insomnia and nighttime waking. Sometimes, you just can’t help the fact that you aren’t getting enough sleep, due to shift work, a demanding schedule, a new baby, etc. If possible, ensure you have a consistent bedtime routine that doesn’t involve screen time (TV, laptop, smart phone) as that can disrupt your body’s sleeping cues. Changes in habits take time, so don’t expect perfection from yourself, and be sure to request support from your loved ones.
If waking can’t be prevented and you need to snack at night, avoid sugary and high-starch foods, such as crackers, chips and cookies and instead choose something with a balance of carbohydrate, protein and healthy fat. This combination will satisfy your craving and prevent you from going on a carb binge:
- A Zing bar provides a nice balance of low GI carb, healthy fat, and lean protein, plus you can choose a flavor that seems like dessert (instead of reaching for that brownie!) Try a Chocolate Coconut or Dark Chocolate Hazelnut bar.
- Try a couple of turkey roll-ups, such as avocado and apple slices rolled up in slices of deli turkey.
- Easy and satisfying apple slices with nut butter for dipping (or a small handful of nuts).
How do you beat the late night munchies?
Erin Hugus, MS, CN has a Master’s degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. Erin is an expert in Diabetes care and is passionate about empowering people with realistic strategies for optimal health. She takes great pleasure in her time spent in the kitchen and loves cooking nourishing meals for her family.
Photo credit: Selva Wohlgemuth