Are you a frequent nighttime snacker? While you may not think it’s a big deal to eat late at night, it could be messing with your health. Nighttime snacking can disrupt your sleep, lead to weight gain, and slow down your metabolism, especially if you’re filling up on high-fat, sugary foods. If you want to kick this habit, take a look at 7 ways to curb nighttime snacking for good!
Is Nighttime Snacking Bad?
Although having a midnight snack every once in a while is nothing to be concerned with, frequently snacking late at night (especially if you’re overeating) can affect your health in a number of ways. It can lead to unwanted weight gain, disrupt your sleep, and adversely affect your metabolic health.
It doesn’t help that nighttime snacking often has us reaching for unhealthy foods. We reach for snacks out of convenience or as a source of comfort, meaning most of them are higher in sugar and fat and lower in protein and fibre.
All this being said, it’s important to listen to your body and internal hunger cues. It’s not healthy to go to bed feeling famished, but it is a sign that you probably need to adjust your eating habits throughout the day and at night. It’s important to figure out if you’re actually hungry, or are giving into emotional cues like stress, loneliness or boredom. The latter can lead to snacking that’s not so good for you.
3 Common Causes of Nighttime Snacking
1. Under Eating During the Day
If you watch what you eat and aren’t getting enough calories and fuel throughout the day, your body will want you to make up for it at night. Blood sugar is your body’s primary source of energy. When you skip meals or don’t follow a regular eating schedule, you’ll experience low blood sugar and late-night cravings, which can lead to overeating.
2. Fluctuating Hormones
If you’re hungry late at night, it could be due to your hormones. Typically, fluctuating levels of appetite-related hormones allow people to sleep through the night without feeling like they need to eat. However, if hunger pangs are keeping you from getting to sleep, you may have lower levels of leptin and melatonin at night.
Leptin is a hormone that causes feelings of fullness, so lower leptin levels could increase your appetite. You also may be experiencing changes in other hormones, such as ghrelin, melatonin, cortisol, and thyroid-stimulating hormone, which regulate sleep-wake cycles, hunger, and stress levels.
3. Emotional Distress
Emotions and feelings such as stress, loneliness, and boredom can lead to nighttime snacking. We treat it as comfort eating or use snacking to combat negative feelings. Giving into your cravings triggers the brain’s reward centre by causing the release of dopamine (the feel good hormone), so we want to continue eating more.
7 Ways to Curb Nighttime Snacking
1. Eat Balanced Meals
The most important thing you can do to curb nighttime snacking is to ensure you’re eating enough and fuelling your body throughout the day. Give your body the energy and nourishment it needs by focusing on balanced meals with protein, fibre, healthy fats, veggies, and whole grains. Make sure your meals are satisfying and fill you up, especially at dinnertime.
2. Keep Trigger Foods Out of Reach
If you know you’re going to reach for chips or cookies late at night, keep them out of your house. If you only have healthy snacks around (veggies, fruits, nuts, etc.) you’ll see if you’re actually hungry or giving into an emotional response. If you really are hungry, choosing nutritious options will help you curb negative effects associated with nighttime snacking.
Since stress can be a main cause of nighttime snacking, find ways to lower your stress at night. Take a soothing bath, do a nighttime meditation, or do some stretching or yoga. These things will help rest your mind, wind you down, and make you sleepier, which encourages better sleep habits overall.
4. Switch Up Your Routine
Your nighttime routine could be contributing to your late night snacking, especially if you watch a lot of TV. Snacking while you’re distracted takes your attention away from what and how much is eaten, and reduces your memory of snacking, making it more likely for you to overeat. Try switching up your routine by going for a walk after dinner, reading instead of watching TV, or doing other screen-less activities like journaling or calling a friend.
5. Keep a Food Diary
A food diary will provide you with an overview of what you eat from day to night, as well as your eating patterns. Keep track of your food intake for a week or two to help identify any problematic patterns like skipping meals or going too long without eating. A food diary can help you figure out why you may snack at night so that you can start changing your habits.
6. Healthy Sleep Habits
Poor sleeping habits and sleep disorders like insomnia can lead to higher rates of late night snacking. Adequate sleep is key for aiding glucose metabolism and regulating hunger and appetite hormones. Sleepiness can also be mistaken for hunger. Try to get to sleep earlier, follow a relaxing nighttime routine, steer clear of screens, and create a comfortable sleeping environment.
7. Plan Your Snacks
Like all habits, quitting nighttime snacking cold turkey can be really tough. It may be helpful to first minimize the nights of the week you snack, eat smaller portions, and ensure your snacks are nutritious. If you’re craving something sweet, try a healthier option like frozen grapes. If you love to nosh on something crunchy, have carrots and red peppers at the ready. For savoury options, consider air popped popcorn or pre-portioned trail mix.
It may take a while to develop a routine to cut back on late night snacking, but these tips are sure to help!
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