How to Curb Late-Night Snacking
Most of us have no trouble passing on a sleeve of Oreos for breakfast. I mean, they are delicious, but in the morning it's easy to also recognize that they aren't nutritious.
But as the day goes on, this logic can start to break down.
We start to rationalize why a sleeve of Oreos is a good idea. You didn't punch your annoying boss Larry in the face, that deserves something right? Or maybe it's time for a reward after a long day?
For most people, after dinner eating rituals aren't even directly tied to whether or not Larry was in the office that day. It's simpler (but potentially more challenging) than that.
It's a habit.
Think about your after work, or after dinner routine. What does an average night look like for you? Do you have go-to activities? (such as turning on the TV, scrolling through social media, or calling a friend or family member?)
These activities are great ways to relax and unwind, but the trouble comes when we pair it with snacks. Then it becomes a package deal, you can't have one without the other. It becomes a habit that happens on auto-pilot.
So how do we unplug without the mindless snacking part?
Make it harder to be on eating auto-pilot.
Relaxing in the evening is important for your mental health, but you don't want to hinder your health and fitness goals in the process. Here are some practical strategies to help you curb the late night snacking habit.
Don't keep snacks in the house if you can help it.
Literally, just don't buy them. If you don't have Oreos, you can't eat Oreos. If you live with a roommate or significant other who wants to keep cookies stocked at all times, use separate shelves to store them. Our brains work better with yes/no choices, so if you put the cookies on a "no" shelf, it will be easier for you to pass on them.
The goal of a healthy lifestyle is not to avoid sweets and chips forever. That would be sad and is not realistic in the long haul. But it's easier to stay on track when you limit your splurge quantities and frequencies. For example, I love mini dark chocolate peanut butter cups from Trader Joe's. (If you haven't tried them, umm, WHAT?!) You can buy these delicious morsels in a 9-pack, or in a tub... see where I'm going with this? Even if I eat all 9 of the small pack at once, I'm done. It's gone. I can't eat any more of them. But the tub... oh man, it's just not a good plan. Splurge small.
Break the habit.
Think about the scenario that led up to mindless snacking. Is it Netflix? Or Instagram scrolling? Or even reading? Breaking a habit is hard, and most of the time simply committing to "snacking less" doesn't cut it. If your current go-to routine is not doing your waistline any favors, try mixing it up. Take a walk after dinner before turning on the TV. Lay out your clothes for the next day before you look at social media. Do the dishes while you catch up with mom. Most of the time we aren't really hungry, we are just following protocol, so disrupting the pattern can help you create a new habit (i.e. Game of Thrones, but without the bag of chips to go with it).
Drink more water.
Water is honestly the most underrated weapon in your arsenal. And it's FREE. Put a water bottle next to your couch. When you feel the urge to get up and grab the pretzel sticks during a commercial break, take a swing of water. Make yourself drink the whole bottle before snacking. The first five minutes will suck. Water is not nearly as satisfying as chocolate chip cookies, BUT, you will be surprised how often the cravings will pass.
Don't deprive yourself during the day.
I've done every type of diet in my pursuit of the "healthiest" lifestyle. Every time the diet was super restrictive (anywhere along the vegan to paleo spectrum), at some point I'd crash and burn and go real hard off the wagon. There was also a hefty amount of guilt and shame for not being "perfect" that would go along with it. Hating yourself is exhausting and depressing. Elimination diets can be useful, especially if you experience frequent stomach pains, have chronic inflammation, or are simply curious and want to experiment (something I always encourage my clients to do), but for most people it's not the best sustainable option. If you find yourself continually binging late at night, consider what you are eating throughout the day. Focus on protein at each meal, and don't always skip the fat and carbs. Overeating later might signal that you aren't quite getting enough during the day.
Also note that breaking a habit takes time. It takes a while to retrain your brain to understand that 'Friends' reruns does not = tub of ice-cream (and when I say "a while" I don't mean days. It's more like weeks and months). Be nice to yourself during the process!
Do you have any favorite tips to add? Drop them in the comments below!