Most dietitians will tell you that the number one problem is. The number one problem that dietitians see in their patients when trying to lose weight or keep it off is the temptation to snack uncontrollably after meals. This is often attributed to a person’s failure or lack of willpower. However, this is not always true. Even if emotional eating or impulse control is to blame, there are still ways you can conquer late-night snacking. These are three of them:
1. Get a larger breakfast
My patients’ nighttime eating problems are often caused by poor breakfast habits. Many people mistakenly believe that “being good” means eating as few calories and carbs as possible when you are trying to lose weight. These low-calorie, 100- to 200-calorie breakfasts can often make you hungry by lunchtime. At this point, you might consider a salad with grilled chicken.
These seemingly good choices can backfire by the time dinner arrives. Your body is almost done with underfeeding. After fasting overnight and receiving only a handful of calories throughout your workday, your body will begin to crave food. These cravings can last well into the night. This could be described as the feeling of “needing something sweet” even though you are still full from your dinner. This is the force that makes you go back to the kitchen for more cereal, peanut butter, chips, and juice. Then, guilt sets in and you begin the vicious cycle again the next day, vowing to “be good” to make up for the last night’s delicious raw cookie dough.
This is a common pattern. The solution? Eat more throughout the day. Start with a healthy, filling breakfast. I recommend one that is at least 300 calories in total and contains foods rich in satiating fiber, healthy oils, protein, or all three. This is followed by a satisfying, balanced lunch. It should include a large portion of vegetables, some high-fiber carbs, and your choice of protein. After a few days, you should notice a reduction in nighttime hunger pangs.
2. A minty smile can break the monotony
Sometimes, after-dinner snacking has become so common that it is no longer related to physiological hunger cues. Your brain operates on autopilot and directs you to open the fridge at every commercial break. My patients who struggled with this situation found relief by “minting” their mouths at the witching hours to signal that it was over. Some people have tried chewing sugarless, minty gum. You can’t eat if there is already something in your mouth. Others have gone all out and used Listerine to clean their teeth. I challenge you to eat anything sweet when your mouth feels clean. Both versions of this tactic use a minty mouth to interrupt the natural urge to snack.
3. You can do damage control by eating very low-calorie snacks.
You may feel hungry again after dinner if you stay up too late. You won’t fall asleep if you don’t have something in your stomach. However, snacking at night is not a good idea for weight management. What should a night owl do? These cases are when I recommend to my patients that they keep low-calorie options available in their home: pickles, roasted seaweed sheets and miso soup packets; unsweetened almond milk; egg whites; Crio Bru brewed chocolate drink; or a 15-40-calorie ice-pop. These foods will help you to fall asleep quickly and fill up your stomach without adding more than 50 calories.