Do you find yourself eating in the evenings when you know you’re not really hungry? Nighttime eating is a major culprit for extra calories and weight gain. It can become something of a vicious cycle that you struggle to break away from but with the right mindset and tactics, it can be done. Here are some top tips for stopping nighttime eating.
What are the triggers?
A few potential triggers of nighttime eating include:
- Are you limiting what you eat in the day (or have less of an appetite in the daytime) and overcompensate later with the calories you eat? With this approach to eating, you can easily eat more calories at night than in the rest of the day combined. Many people eat 70% of their total calories for the day from 4pm to bedtime!
- Eating in line with your emotions. If you’re feeling stressed, bored, lonely, upset or angry, emotional eating can trigger late night eating. It’s common to feel more in control of your eating in the daytime, especially if you have a structured day that doesn’t allow “free” eating. With more freedom in the evenings, emotional eating can become more of a problem.
- Late night eating can also become a habit. If you tend to snack when you’re in front of the television, it could be down to habit, for example.
- Eating in the evening or late at night can also be a “reward” for a busy or stressful day. If things didn’t quite go according to plan during the day, your brain may tell you that you deserve a sweet treat to make up for it.
- If none of that really applies to you, it may just be due to biology. According to a study published in the Obesity research journal, the body’s internal clock spikes your hunger levels at around 8pm. Guess what kind of snacks you’re more likely to want at this time? Salty, sweet, and high carb snacks, for the most part.
Tips for tackling nighttime eating
A lot of late-night snacking is mindless, and it’s often done on autopilot. How many times do you find yourself snacking in front of the television or while you’re cooking … often without even thinking about what you’re doing and whether you’re really hungry? Chances are, you’re not aware of how much extra you’re eating. One way to avoid this is mindful eating. Get rid of any distractions that stop you from eating mindfully and make eating at the table a big deal. Mindful eating is the best way to get back in touch with your body’s natural hunger cues.
Change your routine
If you do a lot of your nighttime eating as part of a routine, it’s time to have a go at breaking the habit and seeing if you can curb evening snack attacks.
For example, instead of snacking while you watch television, try doing something else while you catch up with your shows, especially in the breaks (which can trigger late night snacking if they feature junk food). Doing some mini workouts in the ad breaks (or working out throughout the whole show if you won’t get many other chances to get moving) or doing the ironing.
Always tend to veg out after dinner? Go for a walk instead. It’ll stop you from getting boredom and burn off a few calories (rather than adding any!).
Set a timer
Next time you get the urge to snack in an evening, set a timer to go off in 10 minutes. This is how long the average craving will last if you ignore it and find something else to occupy your mind.
In the meantime, distract yourself and see how you feel when the 10 minutes is off. You might be surprised to realize that the craving is no longer an issue. Positive self-talk and affirmations can help with this too.
If you are still carving something after the 10 minutes is up, go ahead and have a small snack … but swap the original craving for a healthier version.
Sip herbal teas
Dehydration can be a factor in cravings and sometimes, you may be thirsty rather than hungry. A glass of water can help but you may prefer to sip on an herbal tip instead, especially if you have go-to flavors to help you relax and have a “moment”. Get a new special mug and a variety of organic herbal teas to sip on in the evening.
Find other ways to reward yourself
If you often use food as a reward for a bad day, look for other ways to de-stress. Pamper yourself or have a relaxing soak in a warm bath, for example. This can help to train your brain away from the idea that food is an acceptable reward for a bad day. If this is usually a big trigger for starting off your nighttime eating, it can be a secret weapon in your efforts to move away from snack attacks.
Keep a food and mood diary
If you can’t spot any obvious patterns between your emotions and your nighttime eating, try keeping a food and mood diary. Note down how you were feeling when you wanted to snack or binge at night and you may be able to see some link. If you’re noticing that emotions are triggering late night snacking, you can work on tackling these.
Dr Cobi’s Top Picks to Squash Night Time Hunger
L-Glutamine powder - This amino acid has been found to help reduce, and even eliminate, cravings by helping to steady blood sugar. Add ½ scoop to water twice daily before breakfast and dinner. Taking as little as a quarter teaspoon at the onset of a sugar craving should stop it in its tracks.
L-tyrosine - Tyrosine is the precursor to GABA, our main calming neurotransmitter. GABA also regulates our reward and pleasure center. Tyrosine helps to decrease food cravings triggered by fatigue or inability to concentrate and make healthy decisions. Take 475 mg twice daily without food.
Chromium - this simple mineral has the ability to balance our blood sugar levels. Consistent blood sugar throughout the day prevents cravings at night. Add 200mcg before breakfast and dinner.
Magnesium Glycinate Chelate - Magnesium is used in the regulation of glucose, insulin, and the neurotransmitter dopamine; a deficiency can manifest in the form of intense sugar cravings, especially for chocolate. Take 250mg before breakfast and dinner.
Zinc Citrate - Zinc is needed for proper insulin and glucose utilization; a deficiency can also lead to sugar cravings. Add 30mg before breakfast and dinner.